Saturday, December 6, 2014

Oy! Moyashi!

We're back from Japan and yes we had a fabulous time, and yes we cried when we left, and yes we're already planning our trip back. There's something about that country that just grabs you and fascinates you, and oh yeah, it's beautiful to boot. Sigh.

 I will confess that I am not a massive fan of Japanese food. I love tempura, in very small quantities, and ramen and miso broth and tonkatsu. I got addicted to sushi rolls a few years ago, but now can't even look at them without feeling queasy. So eating in Japan for me was always going to be a little bit of an issue. Amanda, Susan and Melanie, recommended we do a do a food tour in Tokyo, so we did, on our second night there.



We started off by having yakitori (grilled things on a stick) at a tiny yakitori restaurant in Yurakucho and they were absolutely delicious. It started a hunt for good yakitori every else we went, but while the place in Kyoto we found was very good, it wasn't close to the amazingness of this place.

Back to the train station and a few stops later we were in Tsukishima and our guide was cooking us Monja-yaki (which is this weird - and delicious - batter which goes kind of gelatinous and takes on every single flavour that is put into it. In this case, pork, tomato, cheese and pesto.)

Monjayaki makings

Sylvia making monjayaki

(this photo was blatantly stolen from the Tokyo Urban Adventures Instagram account ;) We weren't looking our best because beer, heat from the grill and 3 days in the same clothes due to no luggage. But we were happy. So happy.)

And then, because we obviously hadn't eaten enough, we had okinamiyaki, the famous pancake from Osaka and Hiroshima. I loved it that night although I was filling up fast!  But the second time I had it, in Kyoto, I couldn't handle the taste of the sauce (otafuku) and the mayonnaise that you put on the top once cooked. I know I'll end up making this at home though, minus the otafuku and the kewpie ;)

Okinamiyaki makings

In Hiroshima I had a beautiful pork ramen in pork broth which was so damn tasty, but that I'm still feeling the after-effects of. I should have known better - not having a gallbladder means that usually your system can't handle rich, fatty foods. And Melanie had warned me about the pork broth ... but I did it anyway. Let this be a warning to those of you without gall bladders, or who have badly functioning ones. THE PORK BROTH WILL SEDUCE YOU THEN TRY TO KILL YOU. Don't do it. However, as a weight loss method, it works, but probably isn't worth (ooooh watch those spammers come out with those magical words!!)

We went back to the same restaurant of the pork broth the next night as I was determined to find something on the menu that I could eat. And I did.

Moyashi - Gaba

It's called Moyashi, and it has bean sprouts and pork and vegetables and it's bloody delicious. We also had some gyoza and yakimeshi (fried rice) and the whole combo was so good we went back the next night for exactly the same thing.

We both loved it so much I searched for a recipe for Moyashi when we got back so I could cook it. I googled and came across a few, but I really liked this one, and I adapted it to what I tasted that night in Hiroshima at Ga-Ba, and the vegetables that we liked to eat. Looking at the photo above and what I now cook though, I think I might have included the vegetables we had in the yakimeshi (which I have also since cooked) and inadvertantly combined the two! Nevertheless, my version is so delicious, and people have asked me to share it, so here it is.

Moyashi (adapted from this recipe)
Feeds two people

  • 1 packet of bean sprouts (the packet I get from the supermarket feeds 2 hungry people)
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 4 shiitake mushrooms, very finely diced
  • 1/2 red capsicum, very finely diced
  • 1 zucchini, very finely diced
  • 15 chive stalks, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 minced garlic
  • 250 g free range, organic pork mince (or chicken mince would probably do nicely too)
  • Sake (rice wine)
  • Soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • salt, pepper, sesame seeds to taste

Boil some water on the stove, and add the washed bean sprouts for about 20-30 seconds. Drain and rinse in cold tap water, and set aside.

moyashi ingredients

It's important to have all your ingredients prepared before you start cooking. Put all the vegies except the garlic on a plate.

moyashi pork

Heat some oil in a wok on medium-high heat, and gently cook the garlic. Before it colours, add the pork, and break it up really well with a spatula as it cooks. When it is near to being cooked, add a large splash of sake, and a teaspoon of sugar. Combine and let the sake cook off the alcohol.

moyashi stir frying

Add the vegetables to the pork. Make a space in the middle of the wok and add a tablespoon of soy sauce. Let it sizzle a little bit then combine the pork and vegetables through it. Cook until vegetables are soft.

Turn the heat up and add the bean sprouts and chilli flakes. Stir so that the liquid and ingredients are combined.  Cook for about 8 minutes, adding salt and pepper and more soy sauce to taste.

Serve hot. Add some (or lots of!) sesame seeds as a garnish. In Japan they grind their sesame seeds with a special grinder - I need to get one. You can have boiled rice with this, but we never do.

moyashi finished


Monday, November 17, 2014


It's weird, but the only place I really, truly, definitely wanted to visit when we started planning on visiting Japan all those years ago was Hiroshima. It's a city that, as you all know, has the horrible honour of being the the recipient of the world's first atomic bomb. It killed hundreds of thousands of people. But the pervading message from this city is one of peace. Don't let this happen again. Ever. And to a couple of children of the 60s and therefore born-again hippies, we had to see it for ourselves.


The above two photos are of the Atomic Dome - previously known as the Industrial Promotion Hall in 1945 when every single person working inside it was vapourised, and everything except this building and a couple of others were completely flattened. We saw the photos of the totally, absolutely decimated "was this ever a city?" Hiroshima at the Peace Museum (incidentally, this place is horrific and no one likes to see photos of burnt children and scraps of school uniforms that children who eventually died were wearing that day, but oh it's such a necessary place to visit. Even if you're not a born-again hippy. It makes you angry, and feel helpless, and wonder how better we can rage against those agents of war (every government in the entire freaking world, in my opinion).



This is the Atomic Memorial Mound. It contains the ashes of tens of thousands of people who died in that day and in the following days. The thing we couldn't work out was this. Hiroshima has every right to be angry. So angry. And they're not. In fact it is probably the most western, cosmopolitan city we've visited in Japan so far, and everyone is so damned friendly here. All the old people ask where you are from, and their faces light up when you say "Australia". And they say "so far! You come here?" And we just nod and smile because this country is the most beautiful we've ever been to and it's the best holiday we've ever had and we speak a total of 15 words in Japanese so there's really no point saying anything further. Other than "domo arigato gozaimas".
There is no glorification of war here, just a universal pledge of peace.



These are some of the millions of cranes that school children from all over Japan have made in honour of Sadako. I read the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes when I was at school. If you haven't read it, I suggest you go and do it. Now. Yes I'm being bossy.



After the hopelessness of the museum and the Peace Park, we just had to get far away from there. So we caught the nearest streetcar (they have streetcars in Hiroshima, people! Another reason to come here!) and went as far as the line would take us, in this case Hiroshima Port. It was cold.

And there was no fishing. WTF?


It had been recommended to us that we spend a day at the Peace Park, and then the following day at Miyajima Island to get rid of the shitty depressed funk we were in after day 1. So we did. And it was fabulous!


Something on a stick. I believe it was cheesy fish cake. I wasn't a fan.










Because them's a lot to be said for a sacred island that has deer, ropeways, autumn colours, views of everything including the Inland Sea, shrines in the middle of the ocean and fresh cookie bread icecream sandwiches. Funk lifted. Still writing a letter to the federal member of parliament when I get home though.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lost in 翻訳 (Translation)






Still in Japan. Walking a million kilometres a day and seeing the most amazing things. It's been a dream (many dreams!) realised.


Also Nomura Tailor is Just. So. Rad. My quilt-jo doesn't seemed to have returned at all as I haven't purchased a scrap of quilting fabric (except at Yokohama Quilt Week - I purchased a little bit there so all is not lost). Dress fabric though ... ooh boy.




And this is only part of it. Last night I finally made it to the third floor - the Magical Land of Haberdashery and Notions. I need to buy another suitcase. I still have shopping in Tokyo to do next week.

Monday, November 10, 2014


So we are in Japan at the moment.
And it's pretty bloody fabulous.
We went to this little quilt show called "Yokohama Quilt Week" which is pretty funny because it goes for only three days. And it's really not that little. Pretty freaking huge, actually. I'm really glad I went. I've never thought my quilts fitted into any particular style. Are they traditional or modern? Both? Who really gives a shit? I quite possibly don't. But it was so good to see that there are Japanese quilters who think like I do with fabric and colour. Except they probably keep to their 1/4 seams better than I do.
I particularly loved this quilt called "Toy Box" by Yukari Otsuka. I'll post more photos when I get home in a couple of weeks and also share my reactions to the show - I took better photos with my good camera.
So yeah - we've been eating a lot of Japanese food (so much yakitori, not enough ramen in my opinion) and the other night at our ryokan we had a fellow explaining the ins and outs of sake. Was rather brilliant. As a result last night I dulled my foot and back pain with a large Asahi beer and a chaser of hot sake. No pain walking home.

The good news (ha! So much good news! I'm in freaking JAPAN, people!) is I found not one, but two Nomura Tailor shops in Kyoto. I dreamt last night of Nani Iro and I need to find an afternoon to go back and get more. I have declared the summer of 2014/15 the summer of Nani Iro tops and skirts.
I'll be honest - the first couple of days here were full of anxiety. It was a massive drama just getting any airline to fly us to Japan thanks to storms in Sydney - and we made it just fine (albeit on a different airline and different service to what we had paid for), but our luggage didn't for two whole days. But now all four of us - us and our ports - are reunited we are having a fantastic time. Not that running around running around Tokyo for half a day looking for t-shirts that fitted us both wasn't fantastic fun! Impossible, but fantastic!
My husband has been practicing his (terrible) Japanese on the staff at Starbucks. He's pretty cute especially when he gets his hand movements for "two shots of coffee" wrong.

How's the serenity?

More later. We're off to find ourselves a bamboo grove.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Geometry Top

Over the last few years quite a few independent pattern companies have popped up which has been fantastic - but very few of them cater for the curvier sewists amongst us. For so long now I have watched my regular-sized friends make the most amazing clothes that I would love to make myself, but don't possess the grading skills to size the pattern up. Also I'm stubborn - if I've just paid $22 for a pattern that doesn't come in my size, why the heck am I spending hours grading something?

Recently Colette Patterns put out a series of patterns which cater for most sizes. I was so elated that I purchased the Moneta pattern immediately. I still have to make one, but when I return from overseas that is on the list.

And then a couple of weeks ago, Katy and Laney, those very hip and happening young designers from Boston, put out a pattern that was not only gorgeous, but that would fit me! Angels sang! Jesus wept! All hail to the Geometry Top


The moment I saw the pattern had been released, I bought it, printed it out, and had it taped up and cut out by the next evening. I actually finished this top off a week ago, but getting time around this place lately to photograph anything, let alone blog it, has been a tad difficult!

I cut out View B for my first Geometry Top (and I say first, because there will be more. Many, many more).

Geometry Top Technical Drawing
Image totes pilfered from Katy and Laney

I had some gorgeous black, grey and white printed voile in the stash bought at Tessuti Fabrics in Surry Hills a couple of summers ago, and then last Saturday purchased some black voile from Addicted to Fabric here in Canberra to act as the back and sleeve contrast. My only problem with the black fabric was that in the rush to read the pattern and get the fabric cut, I told the cutter the wrong amount, and as a result I was short. So the bias strip for the neck had to be joined (no drama) and the sleeves had to be in the front fabric. Which I actually prefer anyway - it's such a nicer fabric that the plain black voile!


I cut a size 24 based on my bust size (and not my hip size) and thankfully Katy and Laney are not one of the companies that refuse to tell you what the finished sizes are so I totally knew how this top was going to turn out. (Yes, there are some indies who just won't tell you. And I've asked. It's like they're scared you're going to cut out the wrong size, or get confused, or perhaps they think their customers are stupid. Who knows.) But all respect to Katy and Laney, because otherwise I would have cut out a size bigger for my hips, and then my shoulders and boobs would have gone all cray-cray and fallen out of my top. Perhaps.

Geometry top 1

It was really windy when we took these photos, so you can't get to see very well how nicely the top drapes, or how those little slits at the front totally make the front piece look shorter. It's not. Total optical illusion. I was going to make a below-knee black pencil skirt to go with this top so I can wear it to work - that will happen. After I get back. (At the moment, I have next to me a list of what to pack, what to do ... and what to sew in three weeks when I return. Out of control with the listage.)

Geometry top 3

My one problem with the printed voile was that my sewing machine hated it. I changed needles. I changed threads. I changed tension. Nothing worked - everytime I hemmed those sleeves in black thread it puckered up and just looked plain ugly. I managed to hem the the bodice with black thread, and then gave it a really good steam to get the puckers out, but in the end I had to use white thread on the sleeves. They still puckered, but at least with the white thread the puckering isn't as obvious.

Geometry top 4

I had to Photoshop the crap out of this photo, as my camera suddenly decided it couldn't deal with the colour black. Jerk. Anyway, the shirt is actually a lot longer than I normally wear, so it bunches a little over my bum, but I like the length. It will be perfect for summer. But an issue has arisen - what colour bra to wear? The front is very sheer - it is so sheer I was worried people would see my 25 cm-long abdominal scar, but luckily you can't. So I wore a nude coloured bra rather than a black one, but you can see the pale back strap through the black voile. Normally I wouldn't mind about such things, but I might need to see how obvious a black bra is going to be from the front, or else live with the shading on the back. Wearing a cami in summer would be too unreasonable. I doubt anyone at work will be offended, or even notice.

I must admit to a little issue with the neck binding. I followed the (totally fantastic) instructions to a tee, but when sewing down the neck binding it didn't mention clipping notches into the neck curve, which is something I normally do. So I didn't. Even steam ironing it didn't get it to sit flat, but washing it and then ironing it again certainly did. So I probably won't clip the seams next time and take my chances with  a wash and an iron.

As I've already said, this won't be my last Geometry Top. In fact it is already on the "things to sew in three weeks" list. It will have a crazy red and cream striped silk voile, and a brown, white and red printed Japanese fabric than a friend bought me a metre of at Tomato about 8 years ago. It's been sitting in my stash ever since, because a metre of something so lush is kind of useless at my size. Until now.