Doll Show 28

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Even though I was busy with this and that at the time, I still made it to Doll Show 28 back in May.

In case you don’t know what Doll Show is, let me just introduce it by saying it’s one of my favorite doll events. It ties with i-doll in that regard, but they both suit my fancy much more than the Volks Dolls Parties, even though I’m a Volks owner and more or less swear by the Volks brand.  The amount of craftsmanship and creativity is generally of a higher calibre, and the price of admission is much lower.  All of these events focus on dolls and doll related goods, including a few factory dealers (Yamato, AZONE, Volks, etc.) but primarily featuring unique handmade items.  Clothing, furniture, accessories, toys, food, custom parts – you name it; this is the place to find everything for your doll.

The lesser-known Doll Show and i-doll events also provide most of the fodder for features in the doll magazines Dolly Dolly and Dollybird.  It’s exciting to see a really well crafted dress or display and then learn how to make it in the next issue.  Better yet, you can sometimes catch the article in the making, whether it be the photographer taking shots or staff approaching for an interview.

Aside from shopping, there are of course social aspects.  Some people bring their dolls and rent tables in a separate area to pose and parade them.  Recently, special photo areas have also made an appearance.  But on a personal note, the one time Miyu accompanied me, we were brazenly targeted with a lot of unwanted solicitation.  Most people seem to either enjoy or ignore the attention, but it puts me off enough to let her relax at home while I run the errands.

But enough of all this – it’s much better explained in photos.  I’ll talk more about the merits of a Volks event sometime soon.  To be fair, of course.  The most recent Tokyo Dolls Party was only two days after Doll Show 28.

Koiwa Iris Garden

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Last week, Alice and I paid a visit to the Koiwa Iris Garden not far from my tiny rabbit hutch in Shitamachi.  Alice was eager to show off her new spring dress, which I found at Doll Show 28 a few months back.  However, gusty winds prevented her tiny props from accompanying her and the layout in general was not so photo-friendly towards Mini Pullip sized companions.  Nonetheless, the gardens were beautiful.

It was a gorgeous early  summer’s day, and quite warm.  I decided to leave the apartment during the hottest part of the afternoon instead of resorting to the AC, riding my bike to the bank of the Edo River.  Koiwa Iris Garden isn’t the most famous place for iris, but apparently boasts the most.  Indeed, it’s not a seasonal section of a larger park, but rather a huge moat of iris framed in hydrangea, appearing out of nowhere amidst that vast baseball and soccer fields that stretch along either side of the river banks.  The garden is a strange, shimmering seasonal jewel amidst the plain of dirt and dust.

On this particular day, the ornate walkways and covered pavilions were filled with elderly patients and their care staff.  At least one nursing home was giving a tour to residents.  There were a few professional (or amateur?) photographers with lots of fancy cameras and equipment taking pictures as well.

It was nothing short of luck that I was able to visit on such a pristine day, both in terms of the weather and the condition of the flowers.  All of the iris were in full bloom, a few insects showed their faces and mosquitoes were nowhere in sight.  The moats were filled with the movements of tadpoles in various stages of development.

The garden is free and open to the public year round, but the official “festival” with small local vendors is held only June when the flowers are in bloom.  It can be accessed from Keisei Edogawa Station or via bus from the JR Koiwa or Ichikawa Station.

Official Edogawa Ward page (Japanese): Koiwa Iris Garden

Kuroshituji Desserts Ep. 4 – Blackberry Cornmeal Cake part 2 (fin)

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A deliciously light cake full of juicy blackberries, perfect for dessert, breakfast, or a tea time sweet.  This recipe was inspired by Kuroshitsuji, and is based on this rendition by Martha Stewart.  You can read more about the creation of this recipe here.  Included below are instructions for both electric rice cooker and vegan versions.

Blackberry Cornmeal Cake

(serves 8 )

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup sugar; plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted; plus 1 tablespoon for pan
320 grams fresh blackberries, washed and dried

1.  Heat oven to 190 C (375 F).  Sift flour into a bowl and stir to combine with other dry ingredients using a whisk.  Melt butter in another bowl and then cool to room temperature; add remaining wet ingredients and whisk to combine.  Carefully pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk together.

2.  In a 25cm (10 inch) round pan or cast-iron skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the oven until pan in well heated (about 5 minutes).  Pour the batter into the pan, lightly cover in berries and sprinkle with sugar.

3.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool for 30 minutes before serving.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.

*If baking this cake in an electric rice cooker, press “start” to heat the bowl at step 1.  Melt the butter at step 2 and add the batter.  Cook for 5 minutes and then lightly cover with berries and sugar.  Bake for around 55 minutes.  When done, allow cake to cool about 20-30 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

You may have to adjust times to suit your rice cooker, but ensure that top is golden colored and a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean before stopping the cooking process.  Given the lower heat and smaller bowl size of many appliances, you may have to cook much longer.  Also, if your cake isn’t “drying” properly, try removing the top steam vent/filter (if applicable to your machine) to aid the cooking process.

*Would you like to make a vegan cake?  Substitute water or almond/soy (etc.) milk for milk, one large ripe banana (mashed) for eggs, and use a mild vegetable oil instead of butter.  It will be delicious even if you’re not on a special diet.

Please feel free to ask any questions and I will do my best assist.

Yokohama Romankan

Though I found out about Romankan some way or another around 2 years ago, the idea of making a reservation to visit seemed out of the question.  Being a journalist at the time, I had come to loathe the “special” treatment given to “foreign guests” -  particularly if they were expecting me.  So I waited and waited, and waited a bit more, but knew that one day I would have to visit.

A few months before the discovery, I had attended the annual World Dolls Festival in Tokyo.  It was a rather drab and disappointing, over priced antique oriented affair.  That is, all except for Sachie Okano.  Her dolls were very striking, anthropomorphic albino-like rabbits with harsh white skin and red eyes, contrasted with soft and sweet child-like clothing.  At the time, I barely had enough for train fare, so I wasn’t about to go rack up false hope with the artist.  Even though most all patrons seemed to be ignoring her, she noticed my attention, and we exchanged a meaningful sidelong glare.  Not only her dolls, but her personality made a lasting impression.

However, her name was misspelled on the flyer.  The name on the list of booths and booth map didn’t match – misspellings and incomplete names.  It doesn’t help that she has no website or web presence.  So, what was I to do?

Browsing through the long and disorganized galleries of photos on the Romankan site (they have since remodelled), deciding if the trip was worth it, I suddenly came across her dolls.  There was no mistaking her craftsmanship.  I seemed to be in luck, but still couldn’t afford one, or muster the courage to make a reservation.

It is now over a year later and Romankan had recently changed their policy – business hours are held only during special exhibits, no appointment necessary.  I took the chance to go visit Okano’s dolls last Friday, during a Naoko Nomura exhibit.  Click on the link for ambiance photos.

The museum is tucked away in what seems to be a duplex or apartment building.  A very friendly lolita dressed woman answered the door and invited me in.  The whole space was very very small, but somehow filled with magic.  Victorian style velvet furniture, paintings, and other artwork simply covered every room.  I’d say each “gallery” room could comfortably accommodate one person, at most 3; the front entrance and sitting area might be able to handle 4.  Nonetheless, it’s far more amazing than I could possibly describe, and quickly became my new favorite doll museum.

While perusing the tiny rooms I was offered a delicious raspberry beverage, which I sipped daintily, admiring all the stark white fabrics around me.  It was perhaps a mere thimble-full, but still made me nervous.  I wondered how they could deal it out with such calm.

As I was about to leave, they inquired if I had come to see any particular dolls and then proceeded to get them from a back storage area for me to play with.  In total, there were 4 – 3 rabbit girls and a more human like girl.

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I couldn’t decide which one should come home with me, but they still allowed me to photograph them – almost unheard of anywhere else!  I purchased Nomura’s nostalgic-style picture book and promised to be back.  The staff did not introduce themselves, but made lots of pleasant conversation.  I really look forward to seeing them again.

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As it would happen, on the walk there I noticed a very striking patisserie as well.  It seemed far too fancy to be tucked away in a small suburban area, so I purchased some Lemon Tarts on the way home.  Going in only confirmed my suspicions – it was like walking into a different dimension.  The tarts were like miniature lemon meringue pies, the perfect balance of tart custard and marshmallow-like sweet meringue, lightly dusted with almonds.  An excellent souvenir for Sir Maru.

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Kuroshitsuji Desserts Ep. 4 – Blackberry Cornmeal Cake pt. 1

Blackberries were just in their peak season, so in short, Batsu simply couldn’t resist buying them by the kilo!  Thankfully, they were only 500 yen per kilo, and even better yet, they are one of the key players in this Victorian Era dessert.

After web crawling for a few hours, this was more or less the staple recipe that I kept coming across: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/blackberry-cornmeal-cake.   This Martha Stewart version certainly has a few American Southern-style touches, such as the cast iron skillet, but it looks pretty and the ingredients are simple.  It also features a lot of berries, which was sure to assist in my predicament.

Let me confess now that I do not have a cake pan (?!), let alone a cast iron skillet. For many years, I’ve used my rice cooker for this job, and a fine job it has done. Of course, the top of the cake will not brown, but it bakes well and is quite aesthetically pleasing.  The inner bowl is very easy to clean and non-stick to boot; I highly recommend using your rice cooker for cakes as well if you are fortunate enough to have one.

However, your recipes will have to be slightly modified to accommodate.  Consider the volume of batter appropriate for the machine, and adjust the cook time as necessary.  For this cake, instead of warming up the pan in the oven as directed in the recipe, I pressed “start” while arranging the other ingredients, and by the time my batter was ready the inner bowl was nice and hot.

This was the first cake:

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Again, I don’t know who got ahold of the camera, but you don’t need to see me and my living room to enjoy looking at the beautiful cake.  Hence, as with the lemon meringue pie, I decided to make it again.  There were some other issues as well, such as the sinking berries that needed remedy, so why not?

The second cake:

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It looks and tastes so much better!  I let the batter cook about 10 minutes before lightly sprinkling with blackberries this time and it tuned out beautifully.  It seems the garnish has been neglected yet again, but this cake still needs one more revision (baking powder instead of soda) before reaching perfection…  Or wait, make that two…

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When obtaining this screen capture I realized that in the upper left hand corner there is some small writing that reads “洋梨,” that is, “pear.”  This should actually be Pear and Blackberry Cornmeal Cake…  Oh, dear…

At least the left over berries went to good use, and I can use the remaining syrup to adorn the plated dessert next time as well.

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Kuroshitsuji Desserts Ep. 1 – Lemon Meringue Pie, part 1

Lemon meringue pie.  Does it not seem like a Victorian Era dessert?  I’m not totally convinced that it is either, but as lemon custards, pies, and meringues all existed by the mid 19th century, and as America and England both seem to want credit for it – let’s give the crown to the old world.  For the queen!

Batsu only recently started learning how to make pie.  My very first pie was last fall, and my very second pie was last winter.  They were both pecan; which may invoke more of my background than you care to know. Suffice it to say that I have only seen one type of pie made from start to finish; I have seen that pie made hundreds of times.  In other words, it’s time to try a new kind of delicious pie!

Although technically, I haven’t made that many pies.

After researching for a few hours, I finally decided on this recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/lemonmeringuepie_86114.  I liked how it used so many lemons, having a recent addiction to lemon curd and yet still longing for something bitingly sour.  In addition, the longer cook time (more than twice the time of most recipes) ensured that the meringue would be set well all the way through and slightly crisp on top.  Indeed, the amount of sugar in the meringue made it seem more like marshmallow the egg whites.

This was the first attempt:

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Though overall I think this pie was a big success, the pictures are quite lackluster.  The fluted part of the crust looks so-so, but the crust on the whole was good.  Admittedly, I took no attempt to garnish the plated dessert, but the angles mostly get my work desk, me, and a lot of distractions besides the pie.  So I decided to make another one.

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Oh, dear!  The meringue looks like craft foam!  The first time I used this recipe, the oven was set too high from making the crust – a partial mistake which by now seems to have been a gift from the fairies.  My oven is very small, and opening the door causes temperatures to drop dramatically. Maybe that’s what happened? Admittedly, I was a bit concerned that I under-beat the eggs previously, and this time perhaps whipped them too much? The worst part is that edge of the crust was beautiful, and the meringue carefully sculpted, but both lose in the face of this pie’s drooping top dome. The upper crust was as crisp as meringue cookies, however, and remained so even with days of refrigeration. We ate it warm for dinner, given the fail, hence the loose side. Again, no garnish.

I’ll need at least one more try to achieve this:

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At least one…

The Baby’s Doll

Looking for fairy tales by Finnish scholar Zachris Topelius, I just so happened to stumble upon a free library of children’s books.  Most of them modern, but many digital scans of antique works as well – some accompanied by beautiful illustrations.  Abandoning hope of finding Topelius in a language I could read (at least for today), there is still one treasure I came across.

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With no real understanding of French, I was immediately taken by the illustrations of G. Ripart.  They provide my only window into the story, “The Baby’s Doll.”  That is, until someday when perhaps I’m able to read it.

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the baby's doll

the baby's doll 1

the baby's doll 2

the baby's doll 3

Yukata and Summer Kimono – Hairstyles

Wearing kimono or yukata would be a lot easier were it contained to one or two simple garments or points of coordination. But this is simply not the case – even at most basic levels, appropriate accessories, make up, and hair arrangement are at once a part of kimono style. As the pressure increases, seasonal factors, body types, speech, and mannerisms all come into play. The days of everyday kimono wear have passed, and with them much of the nonchalance that probably once encompassed the garments.

Then again, this is why it’s fun to wear kimono and yukata in the summer. In recent years yukata has become a form of women’s semi-formal attire, but in hand with this popularity has come accessibility. Most everyone wears yukata sometime in the summer – well, mostly women – whether it be for dates, shopping, festivals, or fireworks.

To increase public appeal and meet demands, various new forms of yukata styling have flourished, with most every fashion sect staking a new and unique claim. In this sense, summer kimono and yukata are perhaps the most quickly evolving forms of “traditional” Japanese clothing. They are available to everyone, and are open to the most liberal interpretation while still maintaining a degree of social acceptance.

So – what a lengthy introduction. Today, I’m going to talk about hair.

Basically, you can style your hair anyway you want for yukata. But, (if you care about fashion points) the important part is for it to look styled. This comes with the whole “semi-formal” status. In the most recent kimono eras, women generally wore their hair up to show off their necks and collars. You’ve probably seen some wood-block prints from the Edo period detailing elaborate coiffures. Yeah, well, no one wears there hair like that now; but they do generally wear their hair up. Younger and more youthful styles tend to have a rather messy look, with the uneven ends of twisted hair shooting everywhere or falling in abstract curls. Older, more sophisticated styles tend to be more smooth, with either no ends showing or the tips neatly curling in formation close to the head. For both styles, the most popular hair accessory is something seasonally loud – often a huge flower or corsage, sometimes worn with other jewelled or jewel-like ornaments.

Personally, batsu is rather terrible when it comes to styling hair. I like to have one hair style and wear it like that everyday – just adding some accessories when I wear yukata. But this year, as I mentioned, I bought a book to learn more about styling hair for yukata. Let’s take a look… (click images to enlarge)

(Just in case you were wondering, style your hair before putting on your kimono. Don’t do like the girls in these photos.)

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This is a cute style for medium length hair that doesn’t seem too crazy. The caption says, “A simply style, dressed up with a sparking tiara-like hair band. Using a hair band will accent your hair’s volume, but you can also use an ornate hair pin to glitz it up in the back.”

1. First, twist the top portion of your hair and secure to get out of the way. Now, leaving hair at the top, bottom and both sides, section off the hair on the very back of your head and braid, twisting into a bun. Secure firmly with pins as this will serve as the base for the rest of the style.

2. Take the bottom portion, twist once and secure to the braid. Repeat with top and sides, making sure not to secure the loose ends.

3. Take the top portion of your hair and tease the underside. Uniformly twist once, and pin to the bun. Arrange you bangs and accent with hair band at the part. Stick with ornamental hair pin.

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“Straggling tresses of hair give this elegant up-town girl style a more retro feel.*” (*”Retro” is up for your own interpretation.) “Pay attention to the amount of hair trailing on either side – have neither too little or too much. For hair accessories, choosing something sweet and lovely will add a naturally innocent feel.”

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1. First, twist the top portion of your hair and secure to get out of the way. Now, leaving hair at the top, bottom and loose hanging tresses on both sides, section off the hair on the very back of your head and braid, twisting into a loose bun. Try to secure the end inside, on a point intersecting a line between your ear and chin.

2. Twist sides inwards, securing near the end of the braid.

3. Let down your bangs and twist the top portion of your hair once, securing near the end of the braid.

4. Use 3-4 pins to secure any dangling ends, distributing loosely but evenly, creating a scattered shape. Finish by adding hair accessories.

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“Lots of fluffy volume gives an air of romance.” This is a style for short hair, which is nice in that it has a real classic feel without using any fake hair. “Curling around the collar of the kimono transforms short hair into a refined bob-like look.”

1. Section off part of the top and then curl all of your hair inwards using a curling iron. Accentuating the collar is first and foremost.

2. Part your hair from the bangs and French braid both sides, securing with pins.

3. Section off the bottom of your hair into 2 or 3 parts, twisting each piece upwards and securing with a pin.

4. Twist and spread the remaining portion of your hair to cover the pins used in steps 2 and 3. Finish by affixing a clip to the braided portion.

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A more punky and youthful style for short hair. “Cool and cute style using sharp vertical lines. Smooth and clean on the sides with lots of volume from the top and down the back giving a boyish feel, paired with cute hair accessories.”

1. Twist back your bangs and pin, forming a pompadour.

2. Split each side into 2 parts and twist firmly all the way back. Secure with pins starting a the back and moving forward through the twist.

3. Create volume in the back and top by pulling out chunks of hair and setting with hair spray. Finish off by securing small clips to the twisted portions.

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This was my favorite style. It’s for long hair, which I don’t have, but I seemed to make something that worked anyway. “An air of ennui – or is that eroticism? A slightly sophisticated style for a young lady.” Oh, my! That was my first time to read the caption – lol. Perhaps this style was made for me!

“The trick is to start off by fixing the ends with a curling or straight iron. You want curling tresses peeking out here and there to give the illusion of movement. Stick with a small hair ornament to make the foundation of this natural look.”

1. Section off your hair as shown in the diagram, taking note of the diagonal part. Leave loose tresses on either side at the collar.

2. Split the left side into upper and lower portions. Twist the upper portion to the left, and the bottom portion to the right, then twist them together.

3. Secure the end with a rubber band.

4. Use your fingers to pull chunks here and there, giving a loose look.

5. Create a bun like shape using the dot in diagram 1 as the center, securing with pins. Let the ends hang playfully loose. Repeat steps 2-5 for the right side. Stick with the hair ornament of your choice.

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It was secure without any product all day, which included walking around in the wind to test stability and baking a pie… to test my endurance.

In the non-styling portion were also quite a few examples of simple hair suitable for yukata.

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The caption said something like, “Instead of getting all fancy, why not just do your bangs differently?” Simple is good.

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Cute and simple. There’s not such thing as “too old for that” in Tokyo right now. Maybe all of Japan.

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It looks like she just curled her hair a little bit and then pulled the top section back.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the pictures with translations and commentary.  Feel free to ask questions if anything is unclear.  And if you try any of these, please let me know how it turns out!

Victorian Dessert Challenge – The List

After watching Kuroshituji and becoming thoroughly enthralled with the story, art style, and especially the tea time sweets, I decided to create a challenge for myself.  That is, to recreate all of the home-made desserts in the series.

Since purchasing a small oven last year, my home has slowly become host to numerous baking projects, with desserts in particular somewhat falling in favor of breads.  I’ve also become more interested in Victorian history and culture (as opposed to EGL history and culture), and what better way to study than through recreating delicious food.

I’ve already confronted the fact that I do not own the proper service wear, and defeated myself in realizing that there is no space for any more dishes in my tiny Tokyo apartment.  Everything will have to be plated on my cheap Chinese looking plates like we’re eating at Lau’s restaurant.  Any money that could be spent on plates will go towards only the finest ingredients.

So now that this matter is out of the way, here is the list of desserts:

Lemon Meringue Pie
Apple and Raison Deep Pie
Orchard Fruits Pie
Blackberry Cornmeal Cake
Charlotte Cake
Cabinet Pudding
Christmas Pudding
Gateau Chocolate
Victoria Sponge Cake

There are not really that many; the real task will be perfecting them.

Yukata and Summer Kimono

Batsu just finished a big project, and went out yesterday to celebrate.  The festivities included paying the rent, submitting bills, printing invoices, visiting the cleaners, grocery shopping, and basically all the other chores that had been on postponed due to the urgency of the work at hand.  However, it also gave me a chance to look around – the seasons are changing, the hydrangea are blooming.  My landlord was working with her daughter to prune the plum tree, gathering the newly formed green fruits to make liqueur.  Summer is not yet here, but the intermittent rainy season is soon upon us.

I like to wear kimono whenever possible, and summer provides many opportunities for doing so without looking or feeling out of place.  So, while I was out, I picked up a book on modern summer kimono and yukata stylings without hesitation – even a book for beginners.  Having attended formal kimono class, I feel rather comfortable with the basics, but often lack the sense (and/or finance) to assemble a cohesive look.  Besides pointers for establishing harmony between kimono and accessories, there were bits of advice about styling for your body type, unique obi arrangements, and hair styling tips.

If I start now, there should be enough time to practice before all of the summer festivals.  I particularly need to work on hair styling… but a more thorough review certainly wouldn’t hurt.  I’d also like to work more on creating an EGL or loli inspired yukata look.

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