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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sekigahara to Mitake to Hosokute

Today was the first day that we actually walked on the Nakasendo.

After bidding sayonara to our hosts at the Masuya Ryokan, we walked back to the train station and took the 8:45 am from Sekigahara to Nagoya. When we got to Nagoya, we had to change to the Meitetsu Line and we only had 5 minutes.

Luckily, I found a picture with the location of the Nagoya JR Train Station and the Meitetsu Station so we had an idea where we needed to go. When we got off the JR train, we followed the signs to the Marriott Hotel and crossed the street to the Meitetsu Station. Because we couldn't buy a ticket all the way from Sekigahara to Mitake, we had to stop and get a ticket to get from Nagoya to Mitake. There was a station attendant who helped us, which was fortunate because we didn't have much time. We actually got on the right train, transferred in Shinkani to a smaller train and took it to the end of the line--Mitake. The entire trip from Sekigahara to Mitake took 130 minutes and cost Y1940. Today's train trip was the hardest. We had 3 tight connections and had to change stations on top of that. It was such a sense of accomplishment--remember, we don't speak Japanese. I felt like I was on the "Amazing Race."

The small commuter train that took us from Shinkani to Mitake.

In Mitake, the TI IS the train station. There was no information in English and there were no maps available but there was the ever-present vending machine.

Across the street from the train station was a large map of the 1st section of the Nakasendo so we took digital pictures. 

Finally we were on the Nakasendo. We still had no map, no information and were not sure what we would find. We walked down the street and came upon a sushi shop. We had our lunch and the owner found a map for us. It was the first information we had gotten on the Nakasendo. After our lunch, she pointed us in the right direction. Before leaving town, there was a line at the croquette stand so we had to stop and get some. We didn't know what we were getting, but I raised 2 fingers. They turned out to be potato croquets. They were delicious and cheap--Y 50 each.

After leaving Mitake, the walk took us through rolling countryside at first then through woods. Turns out, there were markers along the way so it was fairly easy to find the route. 

The first leg of the trip was along small country roads, yet we were still surprised when we came upon La Province—a cake and herb shop, where you can stop for a drink. It was a Saturday afternoon and there were loads of visitors. The Japanese love to drive to this destination location--it was crowded.

The next leg of the trip took us through wooded areas. We found this shrine on the route.

Today's walk from Mitake to Hosokute was 12 km long and took us just about 4 hours. We arrived at 4:15 pm and checked into the Daikokuya Minshuku. It was located on the main road in Hosokute so it was easy to find. We breathed a sigh of relief. We survived our first day!

2014 05 17

Monday, September 29, 2014


From Hikone, we took a train to Sekigahara.

Before we left to tour Hikone, we purchased our train ticket to Sekigahara. We chose the 1:18 pm train, which left Hikone on Track 1 to Maibara. In Maibara, we transferred on Track 7 to Ogaki (5 min transfer time) and arrived in Sekigahara at 1:51 pm. 

The train station (pictured above) was across the street from the TI (Tourist Information), which unfortunately closed at 2 pm. There was a map across from the train station but it was all in Japanese. There was no other information available. We walked to the main road and found a shoe shop. The owner spoke enough English to direct us to our inn for the night--the Masuya Ryokan. It turned out the inn was across the street from the shoe shop, just a block from the train station. From the train station, walk to the TI and continue to the main road. Turn left and the inn is on the left.

Masuya Ryokan--Fax 81 584 43 0015. I faxed the inn about 3 months prior to arrival and reserved a room. Let them know what time you anticipate arriving so they can expect you. No walk ups are allowed because they have to prepare dinner and breakfast for you. Check in is usually 6 pm but we were allowed to drop off our backpacks. The proprietress spoke limited English but she was able to give us a map of Sekigahara and tell us bath time was 6 pm and dinner was 7 pm.

Sekigahara is famous in Japanese history as the site of a famous battle in 1600, marking the beginning of the reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu,  the first of the last shogunate to control Japan. There are numerous sites marking the various battles. Other than the map the proprietress at the inn gave us, there wasn't much information in English. It's basically an area with walking paths and multiple marked sites. Since we don't know much about Japanese history, the sites meant nothing to us.

Another of the marked sites. There isn't much else to the town but we did find a Lawson store on the outskirts of town and purchased drinks and snacks.

We returned to the inn at 6 pm. Our futons had already been set up. 

As is customary, we took off our shoes at the entrance to the inn and put on the provided slippers. Once we got to our room, we took the slippers off and left them outside the room. Only bare or stockinged feet are allowed on the tatami floor. Make sure your socks are clean or take them off. 

There was tea and a snack waiting for us. After our snack, it was bath time.

Now the bathroom ritual. Wear your slippers to the bathroom. Take off your slippers and put on the toilet slippers provided in the bathroom. Take the toilet slippers off before entering the tub room. First, sit at the stool and scrub from head to toe. Once you are clean, slowly ease your body into the 110 degree hot tub. Once in, the water actually felt great. After you get out, put on the yukata--a robe provided by the inn. Be sure to wrap the left side over the right side. Doing it the opposite way will shock your hosts because that is the way to wrap a corpse.

There is a separate tub for men and for women. The hot tub is shared so it's important to be absolutely clean before getting into the tub. No residual soap or shampoo or else the water is contaminated.

The inns usually provide all the toiletries you will need: shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste.

Dinner was already set up when we finished our baths. It was shabu shabu--hotpot. Put the vegetables and tofu in the broth and once they are cooked, dip them in the provided sauce and enjoy. Dip the meat briefly in the broth or else they will toughen. Rice was also served. There was more than enough food, even though we were starving after our day of adventure. The Japanese usually don't have dessert with their meals so if you need something sweet, buy a snack at Lawson's.

The next morning at 7:30 am, breakfast was again served in our room. We wore our yukatas at breakfast. It was a traditional Japanese breakfast with rice, vegetables, salmon and a green salad. It's expected that you will leave shortly after breakfast.

The night's lodging and 2 meals for 2 people cost Y17,000. Payment is in cash.

2014 05 16

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Town of Hikone

The town surrounding the castle is adorable.

Yume-Kyobashi Castle Road, just south of Hikone-jo, is a charming imitation of a bustling Edo-period merchant area. The only downside is that cars are still allowed on the road.

Sugidama (cedar balls) are hung outside the front entrance to sake breweries immediately after the first sake of the year has been pressed. At this point, the leaves are still green. Over the next several months,  the green needles fade to brown and the sake has aged enough to be ready for drinking.

At the end of Yume-Kyobashi, turn left to reach Yonban-cho. 100 m on the left is Monzen-ya, a soba place. Look for the white noren curtain with black lettering in the doorway.

Cold soba for Y870. Mix the wasabi and mound of ginger and green onion in the empty bowl. Add the sauce from the small jar provided. Dip the noodles in the mixture and slurp away.

Hot soba for Y880. This is torero soba or grated yam with soba. My husband thought the grated yam would be shredded cooked yam. He was surprised that it was a pasty mix and tasted like poi. He did not like it.

On the way back to the train station, we found a shop selling mochi wrapped in leaves. These were delicious and took the poi aftertaste away.

2014 05 16

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Back to Japan...

From Kyoto, we started our journey on the Nakasendo. The first leg of the trip had been replaced with a highway, so we took a train. First stop Hikone.

The train from Kyoto to Hikone took 49 minutes and cost Y1140. We caught the 7:52 am train that arrived in Hikone at 8:41 am. You can get more train information on:

We found a locker and stashed our backpacks.

Just outside the train station is a statue of a samurai warrior. It's a short walk from here to the nearby castle.

Hikone-jo, the castle, opens at 8:30am and cost Y600. It is one of 12 castles in Japan with the original keep. Hikone Castle was completed in 1622.

Boat ride on the moat surrounding the castle.

You can find vending machines all over Japan. It's a steep climb up to the castle and the drinks were a welcome sight.

Tenbin Yagura—balance scale storehouse on the grounds of the castle.

You need to take off your shoes when you visit the inside of buildings. The clue is the shoe storage bin near the entrance of the building.

Hiko-nyan, Hikone Castle's official samurai-helmeted cat mascot.

2014 05 16

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wednesday Night Dinner

At Flavor Bistro in Santa Rosa, my 2nd favorite Wednesday Night Dinner is Middle Eastern Style Chicken, which was featured this week. My most favorite is the brined pork chops, which was served 2 weeks ago. Wednesday dinner is served family style. Pass the plate and help yourself.

Cucumber Gazpacho--this had a sweet as well as spicy taste. You either like it or you don't. I didn't but my husband did.

Clockwise: Organic Salad with Lemon-Garlic Dressing & Sheep's Milk Cheese, Hummus & Olives, Roasted Autumn Veggies, Arugula Couscous, Local Heirloom Tomatoes. The sautéed green lentils were in the center. Warm Flatbread at 1:00. I didn't get a picture of the chicken but it was fork-tender and so flavorful.

Apple Free-Form Pie

2014 09 24

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cheddar Coins--Worst Recipe Ever!

I needed to bring a hostess gift to a wine crush event and searched for a cheddar coin recipe. I found one in a cookbook my husband bought over a decade ago.

I have tried several recipes from this book but never found one that was good. I should have gotten a hint from that.

This is what the coins are supposed to look like.

This is how mine looked--flatter than a pancake. It was the worst recipe ever. When I read the recipe, I thought the fat to flour content was really high but since I had never made it before, I followed the recipe exactly. The cookies spread as expected. They were incredibly greasy from the butter.

Here's the recipe:

4 Tbs butter
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup flour
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

With an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Gather to form a dough.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface. Shape into a cylinder, wrap in waxed paper and chill for 1-2 hours

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line and grease 2 baking sheets. Cut the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and place on baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.

2014 09 20

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


You know I'm always in search of a good okonomiyaki. I was ecstatic when I found a mix for okonomiyaki at Mitsuwa in San Jose.

Stir 3/4 cup water into 1 cup mix and add 2 eggs. I pre-cooked the cabbage slightly but it was still crispy when I added the cabbage to the mix.

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add a mound of the mixture, a few shrimp and noodles that can be found in the refrigerated section of a Chinese grocery store. Add 2 slices of bacon on top. After the bottom has browned, flip the mixture over and cook until the bacon is done.

I added shaved bonito on top then drizzled Okonomi sauce all over.

The finished product. I liked this better than the one I had in Kyoto. This was more of an Osaka style onokoniyaki.

2014 09 19

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Plum Tart

I bought some plums at Costco and they weren't very juicy. Now, what do I do with a bunch of plums that aren't good eating? Turn it into a tart, Ina style!

I always turn to Ina Garten when I need a good recipe. I found this one for a plum tart.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
12 Tbs cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
2 egg yolk
2 lbs firm, ripe Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, walnuts, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until blended. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the egg yolks (Ina's original recipe called for 1 egg yolk but my mixture was too crumbly so I added the second yolk. Pulse until blended.

Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch tart pan. Arrange the plums in the pan, skin side down, to form a flower pattern; begin at the outside and work your way in.

Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture evenly over the plums. Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it's lightly browned and the plum juices are bubbling. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and transfer the tart to a flat plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Another delicious Ina recipe!

2014 09 12

Monday, September 22, 2014

WOW--Visiting Chef Dinner Series

WOW--Worth Our Weight--is a program in Santa Rosa that apprentices young people aged 16-24 who have faced major challenges in their lives. They provide tuition-free culinary and food service training. The apprentices operate a weekend cafe located at 1021 Hahman Drive. The 3rd Thursday of each month features a Visiting Chef. Last Thursday was Chef Catherine Venturini from Olive & Vine. Dinner is $75--including drinks, tax & gratuity.

Roast Artichoke & Spinach Frittata--delicious, with bold sage flavor! I must have had at least 6 of the squares. They brought 2 plates for the 6 of us at the table to share.

Niman Ranch Pork Belly with Pickled Peaches & Fennel Apple Jus on Sea Salt Crackers

Sweet Corn Sformatto with Wild Mushrooms & Dandelion Salad. Another great hit! The sformatto was a soft custard. It was delicate but had great corn flavor. 

Thyme & Citrus Seared Wild Coast Salmon, Fried Green Tomato, Meyer Lemon Basil Aioli, Corn & Cherry Tomato Salsa, Patch Romano Beans

Semolina Shortcake with Sonoma Farmstand Berries & Cream. I liked the addition of the semolina in the shortcake. It gave it a nice cornmeal texture.

2014 09 18

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Shanghai Dumpling

Shanghai Dumpling is located at 10895 S. Blaney in Cupertino. They specialize in shiao long boa and even have an area where you can see the dumplings being made.

Smoke Duck--$12.95. This had a nice smoky flavor but the meat was generally sinewy and tough. There were a few pieces that had tender meat.

Steamed Pork Soup Dumplings--$6.50 for 6. These were juicy and the meat had a nice texture but I thought it was too sweet. The skin was variable.

Green Onion Pancake--$4.95. We ordered 2 servings--one was slightly burnt but the other was perfectly cooked and delicious. Nice flavor and crispy on the outside but still had a soft interior.

Beef with Broccoli--$9.95. One of my favorites. The beef was tender and the sauce was tasty.

House Tofu--$8.95. The tofu was soft but the dish was spicy. I liked the bok chou, which helped cut the spiciness.

Sauteed String Bean--$8.95. Crispy. Nothing worse than limp green beans and this was well made.

Eggplant with Hot Garlic Sauce--$8.95. Tender eggplant with nice sauce.

Combination Pan Fried Noodles--$8.95. Actually better the next day.

Yang Style Fried Rice--$8.95. I forgot to take a picture which was unfortunate because this was the best dish of the evening. It was short-grain rice with a nice soy-sauce flavor.

Pork & Preserved Vegetable Rice Cake--$7.95. The rice cake was chewy and delicious!

2014 09 13