Friday, May 31, 2013

It's Summertime!

It has started to get quite toasty here in Osaka. I think they announced that rainy season is upon us, but that might have just been for the Tokyo area. Regardless, it's been raining a lot and super humid. Today was a nice, sunny day to relieve us from the previous four days of drizzle. With the weather warming up, I figured it was a nice time to make some shorts for K.
I saw a pattern ages ago from one of my Japanese sewing magazines and liked the style, so I used that pattern. Sorry, no link! That being said, you could probably quite easily draft your own from an existing pair and then add the pockets and change up the fabrics. I started by cutting out all of the pieces.

Since both of these fabrics were a pretty rough weave, I zig zagged all edges. I really don't want all of the seams to come apart after one wash.

Then I prepped the pockets. For the front pockets this entailed single bias tape along the top edge and then ironing the outside edge of the pocket under. I had never done a rounded pocket before - rounded edges scare me - but it turns out it is quite simple to do. I sewed a basting stitch about halfway up the pocket, around the curve and then halfway across the bottom. Then I cut out a piece of thin cardboard to mimick the shape of the curve. After that, with the cardboard on top of the back of the pocket, I just pulled one of the strings and the pocket curved up perfectly. Finally just iron this as well as the straight edges down and done! Ready for sewing.

Once the pockets were ready, they were sewed on to each leg piece. This always makes me nervous - will they line up once sewed together?

Luckily they did! I sewed the shorts together, hemmed the bottoms and added the waistband.

The final step was to add elastic and then try them on the kid. They fit pretty well. I made size 100cm, so the waist is a bit bulky. I should have probably made the 90cm for the width and adjusted the length to be the 100cm size. Ah well. Hopefully they will still fit next summer too!

K seemed to quite like them. He said they were "cool and windy." I think "windy" means the breeze goes through them?? Who knows. He kept them on all day, though, so I vote they're a success!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bento Thursday - Chick Magnet

It was bento day for K at school today*! Last night we talked about what he wanted for his bento. I have a few bento books, so we looked at those and he decided on chick onigiris and a chick egg. K despises furikake, so the onigiri were just with salt. The faces were made of nori eyes and the end of a sausage for the beak. The chick egg was a rolled, Japanese-style omelet, the face was also made of nori and sausage - original, I know. He also requested sweet potato, spinach, cucumber and apples. I thought it was a lot of food for him, but when he got home he was so excited to tell me that he ate everything!

As per usual, Y's bento was pretty lame. Most of it was leftovers from the previous nights' dinners, along with a few cherry tomatoes thrown in for good measure. I also made him onigiri, but as Y actually likes furikake, they had salmon furikake mixed in the rice with flaked salmon and mayonaisse in the middle.
*In my last post, I wrote about how K was having a really difficult time with school. This week, however, he did awesome. He cried all weekend about having to go. Monday morning rolled around and I expected HUGE tears, but was met with just a bit of whining and a voice on the verge of tears. He held it together, came home, and said he had so much fun.
Yesterday we talked the entire day about school and why it is important that he go and mama stay home. I reassured him I would be waiting for him at the bus and that we could get some ice cream afterwards. He didn't cry, but didn't seem all that pleased. This morning, he jumped out of bed and was ready to go! He didn't cry at all, and generally seemed excited to be headed to school. Weird. And awesome. He came home and told me about all the fun he had. What a relief. Let's hope next week continues like this...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dinosaur Cookies

As you may remember, K is now in preschool. The first few weeks went swimmingly - he was excited to go, had fun, and would come home and tell me all about it. Then out of nowhere, he decided he didn't like school and no longer needs to go. He makes up excuses (e.g. he has to go to work) and cries a lot. For a while he was waking up multiple times during the night begging and crying to not go to school, even on non-school days.

Quite obviously this has me concerned. I have asked him what the problem is, and he says he loves his teachers, his friends, the bus, the toys, everything, but the classroom is scary. During his field trip the teacher told me that the other day he went up to her and said something really long to her in English and she couldn't understand. He said it again and she still couldn't get it and then he cried. Apparently he cried for quite a while. I asked him what he told her, but he didn't remember. This broke my heart. Maybe the classroom is scary for him because he has worked out that if there is a problem and he can't express it in Japanese (very likely), then he is kind of screwed. Gaaa...just writing that makes me want to cry.

We have worked out a little plan - more one-on-one time (i.e. Japanese only time) with Y, me being super encouraging of his Japanese (I think he knows more than he realizes), and playing with school friends outside of school. So, last week I called a mom of one of the boys he talks about and they came over to play last Wednesday. The boys didn't really play together so much, but I think just becoming more familiar with a classmate will help.

A few days before coming over, I asked K what snack he wanted me to make for the play date. He said he wanted dinosaur cookies. This came as a big shock to me, since I didn't even know that he knew what dinosaurs were. Luckily, however, a few years ago on a trip home to the States I picked up some dinosaur cookie cutters!

I started by making a half-recipe of my sugar cookies and cutting them with the dinosaur cutters. This was a tad challenging since the tips of the tails are really tiny and kept tearing off in the cutter. I was able to salvage most of them, but some had to be scrapped.

Then, using leftover icing from the Shinkansen cookies, I decorated the dinos. I think the icing had lost some of its water, making it quite difficult to spread. The purple/pink color was the worst. Y said he thought it make them look more like dinosaurs, but I just thought they looked kind of messy.

That being said, they tasted just the same as they usually do, so it all worked out. The day after the friend came over, K had to go to preschool. He cried and cried the whole morning before leaving the house and finally the teacher had to pry him off of me to put him on the bus. It totally bummed me out, but he came home and said that he had such fun! What a relief. After that, I figured all this crying and stress would be finished, but he cried quite a bit on Saturday and Sunday just thinking about school. Dear me.
Monday morning rolled along, however, and he took it like a champ. There were a few times I thought he would lose it, but he held it together and didn't cry the whole day. Again, after getting home he told me about all of the fun he had. I'm hoping we have turned a corner, but I imagine there will be good days and bad days. Let's hope Thursday is a good one!

Friday, May 24, 2013

7 Months In and I Need New Clothes

I am 28 weeks pregnant today and I am already bored of my maternity clothes. Since K was born in April, I didn't have many summer items going into this pregnancy. My lovely mom and my best friend from home each sent me a few items which have been wonderful, but I am on like month two of wearing the same four items. It was time for some new clothes.

A while back I bought a Megan Nielson pattern so I could make this dress. I figured I might as well throw in a pattern for a t-shirt as well - one can never have too many t-shirts. I had extra brown fabric from the dress I made a while back, but I didn't want the shirt to just be a brown t-shirt - kind of boring, I thought. I decided I wanted the back to be lace, but also did not like the idea of having it bare under the lace. As my solution, I started by cutting out a piece of brown jersey, as well as stretch lace for the back and sewing them together.

I was expecting the lace to strech a lot more than it did. It really wasn't too difficult to deal with at all.

After cutting out the front, I ruched it up the sides and then pinned it to the back like crazy. Once that was sewed up, I tried it on to make sure it actually fit. It did and I was so super stoked! The final step was to add the sleeves and then deal with the raw edges.

This shirt was super fast to work up. I love projects like that! In fact, these photos are taken from last Friday when I had to go on a field trip with K. I had nothing to wear and decided two nights before the trip that it was time to make the shirt. The first night I prepped the pattern and cut out the fabric. The second night was sewing it all together. I don't think it took more than an hour and a half to sew. I love the fit and can't wait to make another one!

As a note, I am not much one for selfies, but I almost never wear my hair down and am almost always wearing my glasses. Because of the field trip, I did it up a bit so I decided to just take the photos when we got home and use these in this post. Y offered to take new photos the next day, but I was already showered, hair up, contacts out, i.e. not as cute.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bento Thursday - Dr. Yellow

K technically started school about a month ago, but just this week he has started on his regular schedule of going twice a week. One day a week he has school lunch and the other day I make him a bento. To be honest, I have dreamed about making my children's bentos from the first day I found out how cute lunches could be. In fact, prior to K's birth I would VERY occasionally make Y bentos. Most men's bentos are just standard food - leftovers from the night before even - in a lunchbox. Not the ones I made though. I pretty much only made cute ones. Looking back on it, poor Y, he used to take his lunch in to work and open it up and there would be a little man playing maracas or little bears popping out to say "hi". How embarassing.

Now, however, I get to make any type of cute bento I can come up with since I have K! Today's featured his beloved Dr. Yellow Shinkansen. I formed the Shinkansen out of rice, then made a super thin omelet-type egg and cut it to the same shape. I used nori for the stripes and windows. The bento also had sugar snap peas, carrots, fried chicken and cucumber - all foods K adores.

Two weeks ago, I also made his school bento. I didn't write about it on the day since it was so super similar to the bento I had made for him for our Children's Day picnic. But, here it is. A little samurai onigiri - nori face and hair, with a ham and cheese hat - and sausage Koi Nobori with ham and cheese eyes. I think I also included some asparagus, broccoli and carrots, but can't be sure on that bit.

Since I have to go through the trouble of making K's bento, I figured I might as well make one for Y at the same time. I didn't think to take a photo of Y's on the day I made the Samurai Bento, but here is today's. The top is omurice - an omelet-type egg covering rice that has been stir-fried with onion, green pepper, sausage and ketchup - and fried chicken. The bottom is sugar snap peas with katsuo-boshi and a bit of soy sauce, and sweet potato fries.
Kan came home from school and told me how he ate almost all of his bento. He was so proud of himself. He did a good job with it, leaving just one tiny carrot and one sugar snap pea. Now it's time to start thinking about next week!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cheesecake Pops

Last week, I wrote all about K's 3rd birthday party - the race, the pinata, the cookies and of course the cake. The last sweet treat I made for the party were cheesecake pops. While I like cake pops, I often feel like something is kind of missing or just not quite right with them. When I saw the recipe for cheesecake pops, however, I thought maybe this was the change that I need in a cake pop.

You start by making a crustless cheesecake. I imagine most cheesecake recipes would work for this, but I followed the recipe just in case.

Mine browned a bit too much on top, but I just chopped that bit off and then started rolling.

The recipe says to use a tablespoon to form the balls, but I thought that would be too big for my liking. I used a half-tablespoon and then decided it was a tad small. In the end, I settled on a heaping half-tablespoon of cake for each ball. This meant that they weren't perfectly uniform, but I tried to get them as close as possible.

Using white and yellow candy melts, I coated the balls and let them dry standing up. The candy melts were vanilla flavored. The vanilla paired with the lemony cheesecake was just perfect. In my book, these are far superior to regular cake pops!
They were quite a hit at the party - both the kids and the parents really enjoyed them. The only issue is that I don't have a good way to display them. I ended up wadding up some tissue paper, putting it in the botttom of a cup and then putting the cheesecake pops in, but it was top-heavy and one time during the party the whole cup fell over when a mom went to take one out! Whoops!! Some of the pops landed in the spinach dip. Don't worry - they didn't go to waste. We just wiped them off and the few of us that witnessed the fall ate the few that ended up in the dip.
K's party was over a week ago now, yet he still talks about it. He told me it was his "favorite Shinkansen party ever." I love him. I wonder what he will be in to next year. Heaven help me if his preferences for trains don't change much over the next year. I'm about out of train party ideas. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Shinkansen Cake

This week has been all about K's 3rd birthday, a.k.a. Shinkansen week! While I still have one more post about other snacks I made for the party, I figured I should finish the week off with a bang and write about his cake. In Japan, we have train sets called PlaRail. They are extremely life-like miniature versions of real trains. K has numerous PlaRail trains, both Thomas and Shinkansens, but one of his recent favorites is the Komachi Shinkansen. Of all the PlaRail trains he has, luckily for me, this one would probably be the easiest to recreate in cake form, so that is what I did!

I started with a vanilla cake recipe that ended up being super moist and quite delicious. I am often left wanting after making a vanilla cake, but I really liked this one. I think it has become my go-to for vanilla cakes. As a quick note, I only used the cake recipe - not the frosting recipe, so I really can't vouch for that bit.

It was a basic cake to mix up, but when I looked at the batter, I thought something was a bit lacking. I thought if I added blue sugar sprinkles to the mix, it would liven up the cake and be quite cute.

I added in a healthy amount of sugar crystals.

And then freaked out since they started to dissolve into the batter. It now looked a bit moldy. It was too late to do anything about it and I was already going a tad crazy with the rest of the party prep that the cake was just left looking a tad gross.

I baked it and a few spots browned more than others, but all together it wasn't bad at all. Then I measured the Komachi PlaRail and drew lines on the cake to show me where to cut.

I cut out all the little train cars into rectangles and also chopped one of the rectangles in half, stuck it to the end of one of the full rectangles, and angled the front down to make it look like the front of the Komachi.

My cake pieces ended up being bigger than the real PlaRail, but I wasn't too concerned about it.

I let the cakes chill for a bit. During this time, while I didn't take any photos (I've no idea why I didn't) I piped out a ton of windows, like roughly 150, as well as the Japanese hirgana to write "Komachi" as this is on the side of the train.

Once the piping was done, I did a crumb coat on each piece. It looked like junk, but that's exactly the point of a crumb coat!

Once the crumb coated pieces were all chilled, I did the real coat of frosting and then mixed up my silver "paint." I just so happened to have silver cake dust sitting about, so I dumped some of it into a tiny bowl.

Then I added some vodka, gave it a stir and voila, silver paint!

As I put the real frosting on to each piece, I positioned it on the serving platter and chilled the whole thing again. Then I painted the bottom third, or so, with the silver paint.

After that, I mixed some magenta food gel with vodka to get a pink paint and painted a super thin line just above the silver. In both of these paints, the vodka evaporates, so you are left with no alcohol content or taste, just the pretty colors.

It was looking pretty good, I thought, but I was tired so I went to bed without adding the windows. Also, I was a bit worried that since the windows were black, they might bleed into the frosting. I wasn't ready to risk this cake this late in the game (the night before the party).

In the morning, I added all of the windows to the train cars, as well as the "Komachi" hiragana. Everything was so tiny that I had to put it on using tweezers. It took for ever to deal with this.

In the end, it was well worth it! I think the cake looked pretty cool and everyone seemed stoked on it. I will say that it was far from perfect and as per usual, I took some artistic liberties, but all the guests could immediately tell what it was. 

At the party, K made his wish and blew out his candles. Then we ate cake!

There was a bit of batter left over, so I was able to make six cupcakes as well. These sat on the dessert table. I wasn't exactly sure how many people would be coming for cake, so I thought it was wise to have some back-up cupcakes in case the Komachi cake wasn't enough. It was plenty. In fact, while the cupcakes have since been eaten, we still have a whole train car in the fridge. Anyone want some cake!?!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shinkansen Cookies

This week my blog is all about K's 3rd birthday party. The party started out with a Nozomi Shinkansen race, then a Dr. Yellow Shinkansen pinata, and then we went back to our place for snacks and cake. The snack that took the most amount of time to deal with were the Shinkansen sugar cookies.

Using my standard recipe for both the cookie and icing, I mixed up the dough and rolled it out.

As I don't have a Shinkansen cutter (does one even exist?!), I had to hand-cut these. Ugh, this again. Using a ruler, I cut vertical lines all the way across the dough.

Then I carefully measured out 11 centimeters and cut a rectangle.

Going 5 centimeters back from the top corner, I cut a diagonal line, leaving a bit of the original line in the bottom corner as is.

Since Shinkansens are not perfectly squared off, I used my fingers to round out the nose and the top corners.

As any Shinkansen connoisseur knows, some of the faces are shaped a bit differently than just a straight line down - some have a bit of a curve in there. As I wanted a variety of Shinkansens, I did some with the straightish line and others with the curve.

Then I baked them all and stacked them up according to facing direction and curve vs. straight face so I could decide how many of each to make.

I decided on five of them in total - Dr. Yellow, Hayabusa, Nozomi, Yamabiko, and Hayate. Dude, this is serious biz. Using one of K's many Shinkansen books as a guide, I got to work.

I started by using food markers to draw rough guiding lines on each cookie. I figured this would make the piping go much faster. I drew on windows and the stripes, as well as a mark to remind me of what icing color needed to go where.

Then I made up my icing - such pretty colors. As a quick note, I knew that I wanted to make Dr. Yellow (blue and yellow) and Hayabusa (green, pink and white) cookies for K. After that, I looked through K's book to see what other Shinkansens I could make using those colors. That is how I ended up with the selection of five.

While K was at school, I piped the outline for every window.

Then I filled them. This process took me a long time - a bit longer than I had anticipated. I was hoping to do the stripes as well while he was at school, let them dry and then after putting him to bed I could finish the body. This didn't happen. I got as far as the windows and then had to run downstairs to meet him at the bus.

Due to my lack of time management, I don't have any other photos of the process. I just needed to crank these bad boys out. It wasn't terribly complicated from this point out, however, I just piped stripes, put a fan on them to help them dry and then piped in the body colors. I kept a fan on them the whole time hoping to minimize bleeding. I like to think it helped, but I really have no idea. 

I had a big plate of these at the party and when K saw them, he was so super excited! The other boys (and even a few moms) seemed pretty stoked on them as well. They took a long time to make, and weren't as cute as I had originally envisioned, but as Y said, "They're fine. No one is going to look at them and think they are cars." True that. Also, in the end, any iced sugar cookie is pretty delicious in my book!