All posts by Small Tokyo Kitchen

A Japanese Tokyoite loving food, design, culture and writing

French New Year holiday 2017-2018

In between our stay at my husband’s mother’s place in the south of the Netherlands, the three of us took a short trip to Paris for our New Year’s holiday to visit our friends & relatives. We took Thalys, the express train service that runs through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Two and a half hours after we left Aachen, a small German city bordering the Dutch city where my mother-in-law lives, we safely arrived at busy Gare de Nord.

This time we took a nice Airbnb in an area called Wagram, not too far from Champs-Élysées. It was our first time staying at an Airbnb, and in spite of some reservations we had about the apartment, it was a good choice with great location and ample space for the three of us.

On the New Year’s eve, my best friend and her partner invited us to their lovely home for a special dinner. As is always the case in Paris, we started a pre-celebration at 7:00PM and opened a champagne, munching on foie gras and smoked salmon, which seems to be THE things to eat on the New Year’s eve in France.

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Foie gras and smoked salmon, the must haves on the New Year’s eve

For dinner, Chef F made this delicious chicken filet with foie gras sauce. And the mashed potato… mmm I can still taste this creamy, sweet mash only a French person can make…  I’m pretty sure he used generous amount of butter, but maybe it’s better not to find out exactly how much… The sautéed mushroom was nutty and hearty, which was a perfect combination with the chicken and mash. Chef F served the same dish sans the foie gras sauce for their son and our daughter, on a small red kids table. Our daughter absolutely loved it, especially the mash. At the age of five she already knows the divinity of the French cooking.

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Chicken filet with foie gras sauce, with amazingly creamy tasty mashed potato & fried (morel?) mushrooms

By the time we finished the dinner, the four of us finished two bottles of champagne and a magnum red bottle. Embarrassingly enough, I fell asleep before the countdown began. I managed to wake up when they started counting 10, but could hardly open my eyes and collapsed on their cozy sofa hugging their cute little doggy (she was so soft and warm). At 1:00AM we decided to call the night, and we took an Uber home.

On the New Year’s Day, without fail, our daughter jumped on to our bed at 8 o’clock. Dragging ourselves out of bed, we took a hot shower, got dressed and went out. We found out that Centre Pompidou would be open so headed that way. As soon as we got out of the nearest Metro station to the museum, it started pouring, and of course our daughter jumped in to a large puddle. Lucky us… As such we went to a crêperie close by, most likely one of the worst tourist traps you could find in the centre of Paris… We had the crêpe as our early lunch, as we were still quite full from the evening before. Later that evening, Chef F cleverly cooked us some simple pasta to give our stomach some rest.

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Crêpe avec Nutella

On our last evening in Paris, to return the favour to our host, I cooked some Japanese meal with local ingredients. I loved shopping in a local supermarket and get inspired by all the unfamiliar ingredients. I could easily live in Paris and create locally adopted Japanese dishes… well, in my dreams. For the meal this time though, I stuck with the basics and made ginger pork and hamburg steak with Tokyo rice (that’s how my daughter calls the Japanese sticky rice). I realised, if I have soy sauce at hand, I can improvise many Japanese dishes even without (the very important) dashi broth. Of course it wouldn’t be perfect, but close enough. I used white wine where I needed to use Japanese sake, and honey and/or sugar for mirin. The result? Empty plates at the end of the meal.

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Grocery shopping at a local supermarket. Nice trolly for little kids.

Ginger pork, Hamburg steak with my mum's special sauce, Boiled green Moroccan beans, Fried Aubergine, Iceberg Salad, Tokyo Rice

Ginger pork, Hamburg steak with my mum’s special sauce, Boiled green Moroccan beans, Fried Aubergine, Iceberg Salad, Tokyo Rice

Cooking at their kitchen made me feel at ease. All of a sudden Paris became less overpowering, as if something has planted a seed somewhere deep in my mind that one day we could possibly start our life here.

Well, that would certainly be added to my bucket list.

Dutch Christmas holiday 2017

Over the past Christmas holiday, we visited my husband’s family and relatives in the Netherlands. After about 18 hours since the departure, we safely arrived at my husband’s mother’s place in the south of the Netherlands, two days before Christmas, where the year-end chaos back in Tokyo felt like distant past. I love the quiet, serene, family focused and heartwarming atmosphere of European Christmas, which is quite different from what we have in Japan (more commercialised with strong attention to romantic setting, in some cases involving expensive jewelry and an overnight stay at a luxury hotel). The following day on Christmas eve, we were ready to kickstart the festive season to begin, only to find out our poor girl got some tummy bug somewhere along the way and had to give a miss to all the Christmas celebrations. Luckily, a few days later she was fully recovered, and all of us resumed to enjoy our time-off.

After our rather miserable Christmas, the three of us were invited by the mother of my husband’s Dutch friend, who lives in the small village close to the city called Tilburg. The farm house where she lived was filled with holiday atmosphere with handmade Christmas decorations all over the place. Our daughter’s eyes widened with excitement as she walked into the front door. The house was warm, kind, and sparkly, just like an old house you’d see in a fairly tale. In her lovely kitchen there was a large pot heated in the gas stove, and whatever inside it gave an amazing and appetizing aroma of winter dish along with the heaping steam coming out of it. The candles were lit, the dinner table was perfectly set, we were all seated, and it was time for the dinner to be served… And I was dumbstruck when the lid was opened – I just didn’t expect how it would look like, and I couldn’t resist myself taking a photo. Voila, this is as hardcore Dutch as it can be – the famous Dutch “Stamppot.”

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This was followed by delicious vegan Rhubarb Crumble, which apparently was not necessarily a traditional Dutch dessert. Nevertheless, it was absolutely divine. I wish I didn’t eat the second potion of the gigantic sausage so that I could eat more of this amazing dessert.

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Talking about the traditional Dutch delicacy, they have this pudding like, or maybe more like custard type of dessert called Vla. To me, it’s like eating vanilla (or cocoa) cream that usually comes with spongy cake, but any Dutch people I’ve met strongly insist Vla is not cream nor pudding, but is Vla. OK then, it is Vla. Well, our half-Dutch daughter loves it, especially when mixing vanilla & chocolate Vla before eating. During this holiday, she’s had it numerous times, including her last cup of Vla 10 minutes before leaving her Oma’s place back to Tokyo.

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Kindergarten bento – Toshi-No-Se (15, 18, 19, 20, 22/Dec/17)

In Japan, it is said that “toshi-no-se,” the year-end, is bound to be busy, as everyone starts acting somehow anxious to finish off things prior to the fresh start of the new year. As mentioned before, the new year is a big deal in this country, and we do everything to make sure the new year to be quiet and special. 

This year was no exception for me also, and I was running around like a headless chicken without any time to stop and take a big breath… until we left for our Christmas holidays in the Netherlands to visit my husband’s family. Hesitantly we dropped unfinished errands, hurriedly packed our suitcases, left beautiful & sunny Tokyo, and arrived in the equally beautiful, but quite dark Netherlands yesterday. It is Christmas Eve here in the Netherlands, and things already seemed to have slowed down, and people are starting to relax for the festivity to begin. The sense of rush I was feeling in Japan is nowhere to be seen here. It’s an interesting realisation what a huge difference there is depending on which culture you’re in.

Looking back at the bento photos I didn’t have a chance to upload before our departure, I can vaguely remember how I managed all these bento making during my busy schedule. It’ll resume in the new year, but for now I’m relieved that I won’t have to do it for the next two weeks.

Happy Holidays!

15/Dec/17 – Grilled cod in saikyo-miso

18/Dec/17 – Simmered sword fish

19/Dec/17 – Nikudon-don

20/Dec/17 – Macaroni genovese 

22/Dec/17 – Chicken soboro 

Kindergarten bento – Time (4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12/Dec/17)

Whether it’s my age or I’m just being busy or preoccupied by my daughter (& husband) on a daily basis, the speed of time passing in front of me has recently been unbelievably fast. I feel this more clearly especially in December, because in Japan we tend to “finish” whatever is left undone by the end of the year so that we can have a fresh and burdenless start of the new year. The new year is a big deal in this country, just like Christmas in the West, and people become quite adamant about it. While I’m grateful for all the friends who contact me to have this one last cup of coffee of the year or to meet up for ‘Bonenkai,’ a year-end party, I can hardly find the time to do so.

This morning I looked back at the bento pictures I hadn’t uploaded and realised I didn’t upload any of it for the entire week last week, without really noticing all the days gone by. And it’s already Tuesday today. Where has all the time gone?!
4/Dec/17 – Grilled cod in saikyo-miso

5/Dec/17 – Penne amatriciana

7/Dec/17 – Sukiyaki

8/Dec/17 – Chicken (inspired by the Phillipina Adobo)

11/Dec/17 – Macaroni genovese

12/Dec/17 – Salmon fried rice

Kindergarten bento – Sandwich (1/Dec/17)

My strained back is gradually getting better, but I still cannot carry anything heavy, including groceries. The stock in our fridge is running out, and there’s one more day until the weekend when my husband can help me with groceries.

I managed to drop by at a bakery on the way back from my daughter’s afternoon activity and bought a loaf of white bread. By the way, in Japan, this white fluffy toast bread is super popular and can be found mostly any bakery (except for the modern fancy ones). Anyway, I knew there was still some eggs, bacon and cucumber in the fridge, and we always have cheese and appelstroop being the Dutch household, so I decided to make sandwich for my daughter’s lunch.

Menu: Sandwich (bacon/cucumber/cheese & appelstroop, Broccoli omelet, Peanut butter & banana, Strawberry jam), Cherry tomato, Cucumber sticks, Leftover potato in pesto sauce

Strawberries & mikan tangerine for dessert

Kindergarten bento – Frozen sword fish (30/Nov/17)

Last night I realised there was a pack of frozen sword fish filets in the freezer that I stored a couple of weeks ago. I decided to use it for my daughter’s bento in the morning, so I moved it to the fridge drawer so that it’ll get defrosted overnight. 

In the morning I simmered the filets in the leftover noodle dip sauce (I added sugar to thicken it). 

My freezer is getting empty. I’d better drag my husband out to visit a supermarket in the weekend!

Menu: Simmered sword fish, Simmered pumpkin, Spinach omelet, Steamed broccoli, Steamed carrot, Rice

Apple mousse & raisins with a sprinkle of cinnamon for dessert

Kindergarten bento – Variation attempt (29/Nov/17)

As I am still suffering with my strained back, I didn’t get a chance to go to a grocery store to replenish bento ingredients. This means I need to depend on my stock in the freezer. It’s handy, but I’m running out of the options.

Today I made an attempt to go for a Soboro (chicken crumble) variation. I mixed the Soboro into freshly cooked rice along with wakana sprinkle. It tastes more or less the same as my bi/tri-colour bento, but hopefully the new visual presentation makes a bit of s difference.

Menu: Soboro & wakana sprinkle mixed in rice (with nori seaweed on top), Simmered pumpkin mixed with lightly fried bacon, Boiled egg, Steamed broccoli, Cucumber sticks, Cherry tomato

Apple mousse & strawberries for dessert