Monday, July 17, 2006

Martin is a giant. Our trip to Matsue.

We are just back from a wonderful weekend in Matsue, a three hour drive north of Hiroshima and as you can see from the following pictures the hotel we stayed at was rather small. As soon as we stepped out of the elevator it looked like everything had shrank to three quarter size, I felt just like Alice in Wonderland.

Note how small the doors are and the width of the hallway.

What you see is really what we got. When Martin stood in the shower his head hit the ceiling. The entire bathroom was 3.5ft by 5ft.

The bedroom was so small that there was only room for a small double bed squashed up against the wall and no wardrobe. It certainly was compact.

Surprisingly, I actually slept really well and we had a lovely weekend that involved lots of teas, coffee, museums, castles and gardens.

On Saturday we visited the Louis C. Tiffany village near Matsue. The museum has an outstanding collection of Tiffany lamps, stained glass, jewellery and art nouveau furniture. The attention to detail is amazing and they have even recreated a church to showcase the Tiffany inspired windows.

The museum and church are surrounded by English style country gardens, they are really beautiful and I really didn't feel like I was in Japan as I admired all the wonderful flowers and plants.

Afternoon tea in the attached tea room was every bit as good as it looked and they even had Tiptree jam!

On Sunday we drove out to the Adachi gardens, frequently voted the best in Japan, they really are a sight to behold - even if they do look a bit like Telly Tubby Land.

Everything is raked and pruned to perfection and the gardens can only be viewed from inside a glass building. I know that sounds a little odd but I guess that gravel wouldn't look so perfect if there were thousands of tourists tramping on it everyday.

After the gardens we headed off for coffee made by the 2nd best barista in the world (according to the World Barista Championship, 2005). As expected the coffee tasted pretty good but the presentation was even better.

Isn't that so cute?!

Despite the fact that it rained constantly for two days (even our hotel room leaked) we plodded on and took in plenty of sights. Next up was Matsue Castle one of the biggest in Japan and the view from the top was pretty cool - we had to climb five sets of really old rickety stairs which were more like ladders but the risk was worth it.

We rounded off our little sojourn with a coffee made by the brother of the 2nd best barista in the World at a little cafe in Matsue. It was pretty similar and the presentation was just as cute.

One of the things I love about Japan is that there's always a cool cafe lurking somewhere just around the corner!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Muffin tops - the edible kind and not the ones spilling out over the top of jeans

Being the book worm that I am, I recently started a book club in Hiroshima to meet some more new people and just talk about books and maybe eat some nice food along the way too. Anyway, the book group (all four of us - well you have to start somewhere) met at my place tonight and it provided a perfect opportunity for me to get in the kitchen and whip up some more muffins.

So, especially for Big Bean who was so excited by the sound of Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip Muffins here's the recipe.

1 1/2 cups of plain flour
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of canned pumpkin
1/2 cup of sunflower oil
1 cup of chocolate chips
2 eggs
Splash of milk

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line with muffin cases a muffin tin ( I prefer the rustic look so I don't bother with muffin cases, although it does make the tin harder to wash).

Combine all the dry ingredients together and sift into a large bowl. In another bowl beat the eggs, stir in the pumpkin and then add the oil. Blend all this together really well. Now make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the pumpkin mixture. Stir until blended - if you think it looks a bit too dry add a splash of milk. Now add the chocolate chips. If you are anything like me you will have significantly less chocolate than when you started out - I can't help but nibble. All you have to do now is spoon the mixture into the muffin tin and bake for about 20-25 mins. 23 mins is usually the magic number for my muffins but all ovens are different.

Let them cool in the tin for a few minutes and then put them on a wire rack. I am currently wire rackless but the one in the grill does the same job. These keep in a tupperware box for a few days but they generally get eaten much quicker than that.

Tonight's little meeting went really well and next month we are reading the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency which sounds quite good. If any of you have read it let me know what you thought of it.

The English classes are going great, it's really good fun and I am enjoying them much more than I thought I would. In fact, I am taking on more classes so I am going to be very busy and will definitely have less time to spend baking muffins. This will probably be no bad thing for the waistline, although I am still going to the gym three times a week and can now run a mile in ten minutes - this is a big deal for me! Anyway, I am going to give three classes per week to one girl who is going to live in England for three months. It should be really interesting as she wants to learn more about English life and culture (maybe I can make some scones with jam and cream!). I know we will have plenty to talk about.

That's it for this week, have a good weekend and happy muffin baking!