Monday, February 11, 2019

Making Futomaki To Celebrate Setsubun

My mom was Japanese.  That meant that half of our family lived in Japan.  And lucky for me and my sisters, we spent entire summers living in Japan.  Because of that, I get so homesick for my second home, when summer arrives each year.  I miss our family and friends, the lifestyle, the celebrations and the food that we eat as we celebrate.  Although, we can't travel to Japan for every holiday, we can celebrate and keep the traditions alive in our homes here in the US.  One of our favorite holidays is Setsubun because we can eat one of favorite foods, futomaki.

Setsubun is celebrated one day before the start of spring, which in Japan is February 3.  One custom that is practiced during this holiday is throwing roasted soybeans.  You throw beans inside the home, usually at a family member who is wearing a demon mask and running around the house, to chase away any demons.  After the bean throwing, you have the bean eating.  Everyone eats the amount of beans that corresponds with their age.  Without revealing my age, I can tell you that if I had to eat that many beans, I would never be able to eat the delicious futomaki after!  So, needless to say, we skip , this part of the celebration.

After the bean throwing fun, comes the eating!  I would like to share our recipe for futomaki.  It is called ehomaki when made to eat for Setsubun and should contain 7 fillings.  The 7 fillings represent the Seven Deities of Good Fortune.  They can be any filling you choose.  Our recipe has only 5 but you can add shrimp, imitation crab meat or a number of other ingredients if you want your roll to be officially Setsubun ready.

There are a couple of things you need to know first though before you make and eat your own futomaki, if you are making it to celebrate Setsubun.   You must keep the roll whole and not sliced like you would see it in your favorite sushi restaurant.  If you slice your roll, you will be slicing away good luck.  Next you will have to face the lucky direction which this year was east northeast.  (You can find the direction of the year and more information about Setsubun here.)  Then you will eat your futomaki in silence as you contemplate the events of the past year and look forward to enjoying the new year.  If you eat your futomaki correctly, you will have good fortune.


(makes 4 rolls)


Yaki sushi nori - roasted seaweed 

Prepare the following ingredients:

1 cup uncooked rice (I use genmai but short-grain Japanese white rice would make a better roll) - makes 3 cups cooked
Cool rice.  Mix 2 Tbs. sugar, 1/3 cup rice vinegar and a dash of salt in a medium bowl.  Add and gently mix in cooled rice and set aside.

8 dried shiitake mushrooms
Soak mushrooms in 1 1/4 cup water.  Do not discard water.  After mushrooms soften (about 30 minutes) squeeze out excess water from the mushroom into the water they were soaking in.  You should have about 1 cup of water.  Add 2 Tbs. sugar, 1 Tbs. mirin and 1 Tbs. soy sauce to the water.  Pour the flavored water into a frying pan.  Slice the mushrooms (discard the stems) and add them to the frying pan.  Cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally and watching carefully, until there is no more water left in the pan.  Set cooked mushrooms aside.

Break 4 eggs into a bowl and mix together with 1/2 Tbs. mirin, 1 tsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. kosher or sea salt.  Spray frying pan with Pam or use a small amount of oil if you prefer.  When pan is heated, add a thin layer of egg, rotating pan to spread egg over entire bottom of pan.   When egg is almost cooked, but still wet, fold one edge of the egg over about an inch or two and and keep folding until the egg ends up on the opposite side of the pan.  Add another thin layer of egg and when egg is cooked as before, fold the folded egg over the new layer of egg.  Continue cooking the egg in this manner with the remaining egg.

Allow tomagoyaki to cool, then slice into approximately 1/2 inch wide and the length of the seaweed sheet.

One 2.1 oz package of prepared kampyo.  You can find this in the freezer or fridge of your favorite Japanese supermarket.  If you find dried kampyo, or prefer to use it dried, follow the same cooking directions for the mushrooms to prepare the kampyo for your roll.

Slice the pickled radish to about 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch thickness and the length of your sushi nori (seaweed sheet).

Slice the same as the takuwan.

Place the sushi nori on a bamboo mat made for sushi rolling.  Spread rice over your seaweed sheet to about an inch from the edge of the top and bottom of the seaweed.  Place the prepared ingredients side by side on top of the rice.

Now you are ready to roll your futomaki.  It is very hard to describe how to roll sushi and I haven't made a video to demonstrate this technique.  I would like to direct you to where I was directed by DIL Nicole.  Yuko and Noriko from Japanese Cooking 101 helped me roll my first futomaki!  Go here for their tutorial.

Enjoy and Happy Setsubun!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Nice, France - A Walk On The Beachfront And Nice's Old Town

We boarded our cruise ship in Barcelona, Spain.  Barcelona was amazing, by the way!  (Read about our visit here.)  We were happy we decided to spend two days there while we waited for the ship that would take us on a vacation we have been looking forward to for many years, a cruise around Europe.  Now, it was time to get on the ship and get excited for our first stop, Nice, France.

The first port, on our cruise itinerary, was actually described as Nice (Villefranche) France.  Villefrance was actually our port but it is a very small town so I guess since Nice was so easy to get to, and more well-known, the port was listed as Nice.  Our ship couldn't dock near land in Villefranche, though, so we started off our adventure in France with a tender ride to the shore.  

Monaco was also pretty easy to get to from Villefrance but since Nice is the largest city in the French Riviera and the closest major city to Villefrance, we decided that's where we would spend our day.  We walked 10 minutes through the cute town of Villefrance to get to the train station.  If we would have decided to go to Monaco, mostly to see the famous Monte Carlo Casino, we would have wound up at this same train station going east instead of west.

We found out that finding your way around a foreign country without knowing the language and not being able to figure out how to use Google Maps (yet!) was not an easy task.  Somehow, we did make it to Old Town though.  

We were going to follow the walk that Rick Steves describes in his book, Mediterranean Cruise Ports.  His walk starts at Place Massena but before we even got there we got off course when I spotted a macaron bakery.  I found out that although macarons I have eaten in America are delicious, they are not as good as they are in France!  They are completely opposite of France's, as a matter of fact.  France's macaron has a much thinner cookie and double the filling.  I am dreaming about going back one day to try every flavor.  I can't believe I only tried one when we were there!

After enjoying that delicious macaroon, we found Place Massena.  We knew we were there when we saw the checkerboard pavement.  I was excited about finding men sitting on top of high pedestals here.  They were not hard to find!

In this same plaza, we were to look for Apollo holding his beach towel.  We would have to walk past him to get into Old Town or Vieux Nice.

Just past this amazing fountain, we found Rue St. Francois de Paule.  This street took us to the heart of Vieux Nice and on this street were shops that I was looking forward to shopping in.  The first shop on Rick Steves walk that we wanted to shop in was Alziari olive oil shop.  This shop has been in operation since 1868.  We knew we wanted to to try their olives but didn't know that there would be so many choices.  It took awhile to make a choice.

La Couqueto was also on this street and is where we bought our santon.  Santons are handpainted clay figurines that are usually used at Christmastime in nativities.  We found a shepherd boy here that we used to decorate our home this Christmas.

Next to find on Rick Steves walk, and still on Rue St. Francois de Paule, was Nice's opera house.  The facade was as incredible as we read it would be.

I was really excited about the building directly across the street from the opera house.  According to what we read in Steves book, Patisserie Auer's was where Queen Victoria would shop for chocolate.  I would definitely have bought plenty of chocolate here but the store was closed!

The next sight on our walking tour was Cours Saleya, Nice's main market square.  The flowers that are sold here are the flowers that are used to make perfume.  I couldn't wait to get a whiff of them.

After spending some time at the market, we looked for the next street on our tour, Rue de la Poissonerie.  We were looking for Adam and Eve on our right as we turned onto this street.  We were to look up toward the first floor of the first building here to see them.  Well...we searched and we searched and never found them.  At first we were on the wrong street, but couldn't find them when we found the right street!  But we didn't miss the small church, Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation.  This church is the most popular church in Nice as it is dedicated to St. Rita.  She is the patron saint of desperate causes and desperate people and she has a special place in the hearts of the locals here.

From here we were to look for Rue Droite.   On this street we would find Eglise St-Jacques le Majeur.  It is a Catholic church and a Baroque style building.  The definition I found for Baroque is "richly decorated with many ornaments, stucco, false marble, cherubs and medallions."  It was definitely richly decorated and beautiful.

Place Rossetti was where our walking tour ended.  Here we found the gorgeous Cathedral of St. Reparate.

One last stop before we left Old Town and headed to the beach.  Fenocchios and our first taste of gelato!  Looks like we saved the best for last!  I think half the population of Nice was here enjoying the deliciousness! 

Before starting our second Rick Steves walking tour, we made a stop at Castle Hill.  We had a choice of walking up the hill, to get to an ancient fort and great view, or taking an elevator.  We took the elevator!  We were so glad we went a out of our way to stop here.  The view we were treated to was well worth it!

Rick Steves' Promenade Des Anglais walk was next on our "must-see in Nice" list.  We didn't see most of the sights on this walking tour as we ran out of time to.  We mostly just wanted to stroll along the beach anyway.  If we had time, we might have took a peek inside the elegant Hotel Negresco and maybe checked out the Massena Museum to have a look at Josephine's cape and tiara and Napoleon's desk mask!

What we did see was a beach like we've never seen before.  We are used to seeing sandy beaches so seeing one as rocky as this one was a very unusual, but very cool sight to see.  I also couldn't believe how comfortable the sunbathers looked laying on top of these rocks on their thin beach blankets!

It took awhile, but we did find the tiny bronze Statue of Liberty that Rick Steves mentions as a sight to see on this walk.

It was time to head back to Villefranche.  On our way back to the train station, we passed this interesting monument, which I didn't know at the time, was erected in 1896 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Nice's annexation to France and...

this beautiful carousel.

We took one last picture in our port city, Villefranche, before boarding our cruise ship.  

One thing I wanted to do was to eat some French onion soup in France.  We looked all over but had no luck.  Do they eat it in France or is it like french fries that are not really French?  Well, anyway, lucky for me, the cruise ship had it on their dinner menu!

This post was featured:


Monday, January 14, 2019

Decorating With Vacation Memories

I can't believe that the vacation we waited so long for, our Mediterranean Cruise, is now just a memory.  But what a wonderful memory it is.  One we will never forget.  And just in case we do start to forget, we made sure we took plenty of pictures to jolt our memories.  Another memory jolter is the souvenirs we brought home with us.  

I brought home at least one souvenir from each country we visited.  A couple of the souvenirs were Christmas ornaments.  Some of my favorite souvenirs are the Christmas ornaments I've gotten over the years on special vacations.  We love reliving those vacations as we hang each ornament on our Christmas tree.

Sometimes I find other Christmas items that make me happy when I decorate my house at Christmastime.  This year, I found a santon that I knew would make me smile every time I decorated with it each Christmas.  

Before I left on vacation I researched the things I should seek out in each country to bring home.  In France, one of the items were a santon.  They are little figurines that are used to decorate a nativity.  We found a shepherd boy that we loved.  He didn't fit into our nativity, because our Jesus, Mary and Joseph are very big and look like giants next to him, but he looks right at home next to a house that decorates our shelf at Christmastime.

In Montenegro, I found a very beautiful and colorful Santa and he fits in perfectly with the two that I have already.  He's the Santa in the middle!

Four years ago we celebrated my mom's 94th birthday by going to Japan and brought 20 of our friends and family with us,  My friends, who live in Japan, were nice enough to arrange an overnight trip for us to the countryside where two of them live.  They rented a bus and planned a full day of activities.

The restaurant they reserved for us to have lunch in was a wonderful experience for all of us.  We had a traditional lunch served in bento boxes and sat cross legged on a tatami floor while we ate it.

On our way out of the restaurant, my daughter Lisa noticed a collection of owls sitting in trees of different sizes and they were for sale!  Me and my friend, Heidi were right behind Lisa when she saw them and we stopped to buy one along with Lisa.

I have my owls sitting on our kitchen counter.

Lisa has hers, the tallest of the three, on her fireplace mantle.

And I love the way Heidi has hers sitting on a shelf along with her other vacation memories.

My mom is Japanese and that is the reason we all wound up in Japan to celebrate her birthday.  Because we have lots of family and friends there, I have been visiting Japan regularly since my first trip when I was 12.  I have special memories of  spending the entire summer there visiting family and friends, seeing the sights and shopping!

I love shopping in Japan.  Everything is so kawaii (cute).  One thing I loved to buy was the kokeshi dolls.  My collection decorates our guest room in Florida.

My newest collection, which is not much of a collection yet, are wood signs I find in souvenir stores on our travels.  I got a couple on two separate trips we made to Gatlinburg, TN.  I have plans to have a collage of them decorating my kitchen wall one day.

Lots of times when I enter someone's house, the thing that catches my eye happens to be something they picked up on vacation somewhere.  I love the way my sister, Sandie, decorated one of kitchen walls with a small shelf that holds the cutest little houses she found in Monterosso, one of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre in Italy.  The map of the area that she put above it works so nice 

I also like the way Sandie used the photos she took, while on her family vacations, to create two fun collages.  One wall of her living room is decorated with her pictures of Italy...

and she has her pictures of Japan on the other.

One of my favorite decorations in my home is in the laundry room.

For almost twenty years we would go camping for a week during the summer with a group of friends.  Many of our trips were planned around beach towns.  I am not sure where I got these bright, colorful fish but all the memories of those fun times come rushing back to me every time I see them.

I also enjoy the two hanging coastal decorations that we have in our screen room.  One
we got on our vacation in Mexico and the other is a souvenir from our daughter and son-in-law's beach vacation.  I liked the way our souvenir from Lisa and Pete looked hanging in the room so much that when I saw something similar in Mexico, I had to buy it.  I do have room for a couple more so I  keep a lookout for one when I am near a beach.

Sometimes the only souvenirs I come back with from a beach vacation are shells and sand.   It's amazing how many ways you could use shells and sand to decorate.  I've seen both in lamp bases and other things made out of clear glass containers.  My Aunt Joyce uses shells to decorate frames around mirrors.

I turned our free souvenirs into beautiful decorations that we enjoy every day.  We collected sand from about 10 beach vacations and I turned it into sand art  (You can find out how I did it here!) and simply put our shells in a small glass bottle.   I display them together in my bathroom.

If you are going to decorate your home anyway, why not do it with souvenirs that will remind you of the wonderful time you had on vacation!

Do you decorate your home with your vacation memories?  We would love to hear about it!

Monday, December 17, 2018

It's Christmastime In The City - Week 2

It was time to head west after checking out Wilmington, NC, Charleston, SC and Myrtle Beach, SC. on our quest to find "Christmastime in the city."  The first week of our adventure was so much fun and we were excited about Week 2.

We were offered a free room at Harrah's Cherokee Hotel in Cherokee, NC.  We take these offers even though we know it will cost us something after we visit their casino.  It definitely costs us less than if we had to pay for the room though.  We were frequent guests for many years of the Harrah's chain when my mom was around and soon got these offers.  Now that Mom has passed we don't go that often but we will take advantage of the free room as long as they keep offering them to us.  This gorgeous hotel is in a perfect location to enable us to get to Tennessee which is someplace I knew we could find some of the best holiday displays.  It takes just a little more than one hour over the Great Smoky Mountains to get there from Cherokee.

Week 2

We have been to Cherokee, NC and know that it is a touristy area, similar to Gatlinburg, TN, but on a much smaller scale.  Both cities have many shops that sell beautiful Native American created goods, the ice cream parlors and the zip line adventures.  I wasn't sure what to expect in Cherokee but was hoping for the town tree.  The city did have a few nice light displays but I couldn't find the town tree.  To tell you the truth we were so impressed with and really enjoyed the hotel's holiday displays that I decided to highlight the hotel.  (Although Cherokee didn't have enough to highlight their city, they did have my favorite light display!)

Harrah's Cherokee, NC

Harrah's Cherokee Hotel is so huge that it is almost a small city in itself.  There is a bowling alley  along with the spa, hairdressers, game room for the kids, one indoor pool and one outdoor pool, many restaurants and lots of shops ranging from high-end to gift shops.  Almost every shop and restaurant decorated for the holidays and there were Christmas trees everywhere!

This huge, beautiful tree was the first one we saw when we first walked into the hotel.

We found this one on the second floor near the high-end stores.

This tree was smaller to fit into one of the many lounge areas throughout the hotel.

Many of the shops at the hotel made room to put a tree in their store.  This one decorated their tree with the ornaments they were selling.

This store had an upside-down tree.  I have seen a couple of these type of trees this year, but I really don't understand them at all!  Somebody please tell me why we want to turn our Christmas tree upside down.  Does it have anything to do with Stranger Things?

I have also been seeing lots of these, the snowman tree!  We found this one behind the hostess stand at one of the restaurants.  I love these trees...

and this display!

Which tree did these giant balls fall off of we wondered?

We really had a great time on our Christmas tree hunt at the hotel.  I think we probably counted at least 15.  Now it was time to venture out of the hotel and into the cities.

Gatlinburg, TN

Gatlinburg was the city I was the most excited about seeing this second week.  We were just there in September and the fall displays around the city were some of the best I've ever seen.  I was sure that the scarecrows, haystacks and pumpkins would be replaced by snowmen, snow and poinsettias.  

We were not disappointed.  There were displays around every corner, decorations around every storefront  and "a feeling of Christmas" everywhere.

The entranceway into each small shopping area off the main street were so festive and inviting that we had to go into each and every one of them.

The downtown shops in this very touristy area are so charming and at Christmastime they are even more so.

I just had to sit for a picture at one of the many photo ops that were scattered all over the town.  I helped an adorable family of 7 take their picture here.  

We love Gatlinburg, TN because of this fun downtown area and the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.  We will definitely be back one day soon.  On our way out of this wonderful city, we saw their gorgeous, gigantic town tree.

Our next stop was the city of Pigeon Forge.  I had heard that their light show was not to be missed.  We had to see if all the hype was true.

Pigeon Forge, TN

The city was so lit up with more than 4 million lights that I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they could be seen by the passengers in the airplanes flying above.  This festival of lights was called Winterfest Driving Tour of Lights.  There were light displays on the sides of roads that you could enjoy as you drove by them and then there were clusters of themed light displays in outdoor malls and parks where you got out of your car to view the displays.  

We went to Patriot Park where there were light displays with an Americana theme.  We loved the armed forces displays.

Most of the buildings in the city were all decked out and covered with thousands of lights including the Smoky Mountain Opry and the Pigeon Forge Information Center.

There were many displays scattered around the city that celebrated Pigeon Forge.  This one was a tribute to their southern charm.

Something I read said to look for the critters who live in the Smoky Mountains to be wandering around the city.  We found the bear family.

And also to look out for the many pigeons around town.

Are these pigeons?  I'm not sure but they were the only birds I saw so I hope they were!

Murphy, NC

Murphy is a city we discovered in the western part of NC on one of our vacations in the area.  We were looking for a place to eat and it brought us here.  It is one of those small town, USA spots for sure.  The whole town spans about 6 blocks and you can walk from the post office to the court house, to city hall, the library and police station, church and to anywhere else you need to go in a matter of a few minutes.  We were curious to see how festive this area would be for the holidays.   

The first thing we noticed when we drove into the city of Murphy was their Christmas tree.  It was placed perfectly in the center of town.  This was a good place to park the car.  We weren't going to need it to get around this tiny, adorable city.

The church and other buildings were decorated simply but you knew they were celebrating Christmas in this city.

Every lamppost was decorated and most of the storefronts were too.


We love this small town.  Besides for being able to walk around the entire town in less than 30 minutes, there is a shop that sells the best olive oil in every flavor imaginable.  We grabbed a couple of last minute stocking stuffers there.  And the people here are so friendly.  Not only do you get a smile and nod, you also get a "How y'all doing today" as you pass them on the street!

We had lots of fun exploring all of the cities and we felt the joy of Christmas everywhere!  I mentioned that Cherokee, NC didn't have much but they did have my favorite.

The real reason for the season.

Wishing you the very merriest Christmas and a happy and healthy new year!


We had such a fun time finding Christmas in the city in a few amazing cities last year.  This year we had a chance to visit Savannah, Georgia and have made an update to this post by adding our visit to yet another amazing city!

Christmas 2018

We had so much fun joining our grandson on his first road trip last week.  It was a big trip for a 7 month old but he seemed to be having a great time.  His trip started with his first ride in an airplane.  That got him and his family to our home in NC.  From there me and Soko joined them on a road trip that included a stop in Savannah, Georgia.  We had been wanting to visit Savannah for a long time and we were excited that we would be there in time to enjoy their holiday decorations.

We checked into The Kimpton Brice Hotel and in the middle of the lobby we watched as someone was putting up a hanging Christmas tree.  I love those trees!  I couldn't wait to see what it would look like once it got hung and decorated.  When we came down to the lobby the next morning for coffee and tea, the tree was done.

After enjoying the coffee and tea, we headed out to have brunch on Savannah's Riverfront.  The Kimpton was in a great location and we were able to walk a couple of blocks from there to get to River Street.  This street is lined with shops and restaurants and plazas and plenty of benches to relax on.  There were many festive decorations to enjoy on this street.

We knew we would find a Christmas tree somewhere along the Riverfront and we did.

We also found a really cute Gingerbread House.

Nicole found a yummy drink at River House Seafood and...

Me and Shea found Santa Claus!

After our walk on the Riverfront, it was time to see Savannah's Historic District.  We walked along streets that were lined with beautifully decorated lampposts.  

On our must-see in Savannah list was City Market.  We were sure we would find holiday cheer here and we did!

The City Market's Christmas tree was gorgeous.

Our favorite Christmas decoration in this city, though, was the beautiful Christmas tree in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

We found so much holiday cheer here in Savannah, Georgia and we had fun finding it.  We really enjoyed our visit here.

Stay tuned for our blog post on the many other sights we found and enjoyed in this special city!